TheU.S. Senatepassed a sweeping, five-year farm bill on Thursday that would change the way the government subsidizes agriculture and maintain funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration -- despite earlier threatened cuts -- Maryland lawmakers and environmentalists said.
The legislation eliminates a Chesapeake Bay-centered program that brought in $50 million annually for conservation efforts. But regional lawmakers said they fought for and won changes in proposed new programs that would prioritize the bay and recoup the money.
Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, said in an interview that he expects the new structure will be "very favorable" to Chesapeake clean-up efforts, though it is difficult to say precisely what future funding levels will be. "It's been done in a way that has broad support," Cardin said.
The Senate voted 64-35 to approve the farm bill, which captured support from 16 Republicans. Its future is uncertain in the House, where Republican leaders have said they will delay action on their version of the bill. The politics of agriculture funding can be particularly messy because support and opposition often falls along regions of the country -- and predominant crops -- rather than along partisan lines.
The bill calls for about $23 billion in spending reductions, including about $6 billion for conservation programs overall.
But Doug Siglin, the top lobbyist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the outcome put bay restoration advocates on a strong footing heading into negotiations with the House. The current farm bill, which was approved in 2008, will expire in September.
“It's really good news for us," Siglin said.