The House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a spending plan that would eliminate the Rural Energy for America Program that supporters say is helping farmers and ranchers cope with rising energy costs.
The action to drop the REAP program is part of an outline of $2.7 billion in cuts from the total Congress pledged for agricultural programs in the continuing resolution it passed to fund the federal government through the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30).
Among those are reductions of $354 million for agricultural research, $99 million for conservation operations through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and $338 million for rural economic development programs.
Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-N.C., said the cuts are part of the “shared sacrifice” Republicans are attempting to instill in federal spending as they prepare the government’s budget for fiscal year 2012. The draft budget would also reduce spending on federal nutrition programs by $900 million.
“We’re all in the same boat since as Americans for every dollar we spend 40 cents is being borrowed,” he said. “So it would be disingenuous to think there is this one group that can’t be touched. Everybody needs to be holding hands together as we work through this.”
Critics said the Subcommittee’s actions will undermine rural economies and ongoing conservation and needed research activities.
“Killing REAP leaves agriculture and rural businesses at the mercy of high oil and electricity prices,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The House could not be sending a clearer signal that they don’t care about rising on-farm energy prices.”
“These radical cuts could not come at a worse time,” said a spokesman for the National wildlife Federation. “With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, fuel and fiber for our nation and the world, farm bill conservation programs are needed now more than ever.”