Omnibus appropriations package provides benefits, challenges for ag producersWritten by Saige Albert
On Dec. 18, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate both passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, with votes of 316-113 and 65-33, respectively.
Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (R) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R) both voted against the bill. Enzi cited the lack of a balance in the budget as his reason for turning the bill down.
With a variety of provisions in the bill, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Philip Ellis said the bill requires a more stringent regulatory process for allowing beef imports from regions with a history of animal disease outbreaks.
“America’s cattle producers are strong supporters of trade,” said Ellis, “but we must have strong safeguards in place and do our due-diligence to ensure the health and well-being of our domestic herd is not sacrificed.”
The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) cited that locally-led conservation programs were strongly supported in the bill.
“After weeks of intense debate, I am pleased that lawmakers have finally reached an agreement on a spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year,” NACD President Lee McDaniel said. “The investment Congress is making in conservation will enable conservation districts and our partners to provide cleaner water, improved soil health and wildlife benefits through locally-led delivery of conservation assistance to landowners.”
While cuts were seen to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), conservation operation funding and state and private forestry funding increased, and other programs retained their funding or saw increases.
Continuation for funding to enroll 10 million acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program was put in place, and an allotment of $271 million was reserved for emergency conservation programs, including the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, the Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Forestry Restoration Program.
“We are pleased to see that lawmakers are listening to conservation districts on key programs and initiatives tied to appropriations funding and the federal budget, but there is a lot of work yet to do in conveying the importance of all of these programs,” McDaniel added.
Also of note in the conservation realm is that funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remained stagnant from 2015.
“Specifically, the bill keeps the overzealous EPA in check by continuing to prohibit the agency from requiring livestock producers to obtain Clean Air Act permits or report greenhouse gas emissions on livestock operations,” said NCBA.
However, the agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule was not addressed in the omnibus package, much to the chagrin of many in the ag industry.
Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council president, said the increase in wildfire management funds is critical, as the recent drought and lack of federal forest management has ignited several massive fires this year.
“Wildfires are a significant threat to our forests and rangelands, as well as our homes and lives,” said Richards. “When a fire does break out, however, we need the appropriate resources to put it out.”
Richards continued, “Additionally, we appreciate the continued blocking of the sage grouse listing, which will give producers more flexibility to address prescriptive Resource Management Plans. Livestock grazing is one of the best management tools we have to maintain healthy landscapes, reducing the risk of wildfire and allowing our natural resources to thrive.”
Language in the bill also directs BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to make vacant grazing allotments available to permittees in case of drought and wildfire. The agencies are also directed to address domestic and Bighorn sheep conflicts by completing risk analyses and using relevant, accurate data.
Richards added the bill also continues to block the Secretarial Order 3310, preventing the Department of Interior from designating de facto wilderness areas, which diminishes multiple-use on our nation’s public lands.
Another area that is critical for producers across a wide range of ag sectors are the tax extenders included in the bill.
Section 179 is permanently extended at $500,000, up from $25,000 previously. Bonus depreciation is set at 50 percent for property acquired from 2015-17 and phases down, with 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.
Additionally, the conservation easement tax credit is made permanent.
“These provisions are vital to providing a stable environment for farmers and ranchers like myself to plan for the future,” said Ellis, a Wyoming rancher. “We have had to rely heavily on last-minute tax extender legislation over the past several years, but making these provisions permanent will allow businesses to invest in equipment and property with the financial certainty required.”
Agriculture groups commented that the bill is very positive for agriculture and the cattle industry, and they urge President Obama to sign the bill without delay.
While the bill is overall positive, there are areas that could be improved.
For example, language related to delisting the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region, action to address wild horses and streamlining of environmental reviews are not seen in the bill.
“We will continue to focus on Endangered Species Act issues, including implementation of the prescriptive sage grouse management plans and delisting of recovered species like the gray wolf, as well as larger reforms to the Act itself,” said Marci Schlup, associate director of the Public Lands Council.
This article was compiled by press releases from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Association of Conservation Districts and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, among others.