This week, anyone who cares about clean water ought to pay attention.
Since 1965, Congress has re-evaluated federal farm programs every five years or so and appropriated hundreds of billions of public tax dollars to commodities, insurance, and conservation programs for the nation's farming community. The normal process involves multiple hearings, draft bills, open committee consideration, public debate by the House and Senate, dozens of amendments, and all the other elements of a full legislative process.
This year, things are decidedly different. With very little fanfare, the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders are working to meet the Congressional directive to move quickly on budget cuts, in cooperation with the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called Congressional "Super Committee" by Nov. 1. The Super Committee, in turn, may or may not include parts or all of that package in whatever massive bill it must produce before Thanksgiving. Make no mistake: the Super Committee has extraordinary powers. Once it finishes its bill, the rest of Congress cannot amend it, but can only decide to pass or reject it. If Congress passes the bill and the president signs it, it becomes the law of the land.
The six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed -- Virginia, Maryland Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and New York -- have a lot riding on this process. At a time when the Bay states are asking farmers to do more to reduce pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay, there is a real danger that conservation incentive payments secured for Bay farmers in the last 2008 Farm Bill will be greatly reduced. This would be short-sighted. Federal cost-share dollars focused on helping farmers reduce pollution are extremely valuable. And smart economics, reducing pollution and creating economic stimulus and jobs. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), established in the 2008 Farm Bill, represents only half of one percent of total Farm Bill spending, but provides great benefit to water quality and to the region's farmers.
The Bay states are well represented on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the Super Committee. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) serve on the Super Committee. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is Vice Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and is joined by Representatives Tim Holden (D-PA), Christopher Gibson (R-NY), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), and Bill Owens (D-NY). Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Jobs and economic growth top the list of many peoples' concerns. Mine too. So consider this: a University of Virginia study has determined every public cost-share dollar spent on conservation in Virginia spins off $1.56 in local economic activity. These cost-share programs could generate more than 11,700 new jobs.
All of us who care about the economy, jobs, a healthy farm economy, and clean water should rally around the conservation incentive funding in the Farm Bill. Good government, good policy, good idea.
I ask of Huffington Post readers, please visit your elected officials' websites and Facebook pages and let them hear from you that this is important.
Follow William C. Baker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chesapeakebay