A recently passed federal spending omnibus bill includes numerous funding line items that connect to a wide range of conservation-related projects all over the country, including some advocacy items and coalitions directly connected to the work of WeConservePA. The spending package includes:
- $11.5 million in funding for 2023 for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP), which invests federal funding to advance local projects that mitigate flooding, preserve ecologically sensitive areas and improve outdoor access across the watershed. The Delaware River provides drinking water for millions of families across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware;
- $45 million for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (ATIIP);
- $941 million for NRCS Conservation Operations, including more than $800 million for Conservation Technical Assistance – a $40 million increase compared to FY 2022 funding. This funding supports the work of conservation districts and other local partners to help producers assess resource needs, develop conservation plans, and implement effective conservation practices;
- More than $337 million for the U.S. Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry Program – a more than $20 million increase compared to FY 2022 funding;
- $12.5 million for the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Stewardship Program – a $500,000 increase compared to FY 2022 funding;
- $925 million for NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Protection Program, $75 million for Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Programs, and $2 million for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program;
- Earmarked funding for specific trail (walking and biking) and conservation projects across the country;
- No cuts to mandatory spending for USDA farm bill conservation programs, such as EQIP, CSP, RCPP, and CRP;
- And more.
The agreement also includes:
- The Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, a measure which strives to “protect the federal conservation easement tax incentive, preserve the integrity of our tax laws and protect those who work tirelessly and ethically to conserve our country’s working and natural lands,” according to Land Trust Alliance (LTA) President and CEO Andrew Bowman.
- A revised version of the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act. The bill will help farmers, ranchers, and private forestland owners access voluntary environmental credit markets by authorizing USDA to establish a registry list for farm technical advisers and verification services;
- The SUSTAINS Act, which will facilitate USDA accepting private funds to support the agency’s efforts to address climate change, sequester carbon, improve wildlife habitat, and enhance water quality;
- And more.
Numerous organizations involved in advocating for the omnibus bill (or individual aspects of it that were included) had positive reports to make on its passage:
- Land Trust Alliance President and CEO Andrew Bowman: “After years of intense efforts by our community and our allies on Capitol Hill, I am thrilled to share that the U.S. Congress has passed the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act as part of a year-end omnibus spending bill. This legislation effectively shuts down a tax avoidance scheme that took advantage of the federal conservation easement tax incentive, which was made permanent by Congress in 2015 and has helped thousands of Americans to voluntarily conserve millions of acres of their own land. Over the last decade, a few bad actors have exploited the incentive to make fast — and often staggeringly outsized — profits that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. In the process, these abusive syndicated conservation easement transactions have tarnished the reputation of the incentive and the land conservation community as a whole. But today’s action by Congress puts an end to this abuse.” [Note: WeConservePA joined other organizations in advocating for this specific legislative provision on behalf of our member land trusts and conservation community. WeConservePA is a member organization of LTA, as well.]
- The National Association of Conservation Districts: “NACD applauds Congress for passing a strong federal spending bill that supports our producers and critical, locally-led conservation efforts across the country,” said NACD President Michael Crowder. “It is now more important than ever that we provide producers and local conservation partners with the resources and tools they need to feed the world and be great stewards of our country’s working lands.”
- Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW): “We applaud the Congressional champions who supported the inclusion of $11.5 million for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program in the 2023 federal budget. This program represents a critical investment in the land and water resources of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware,” said Kelly Knutson, Director, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “The program empowers organizations to tackle critical environmental challenges through projects such as, increasing equitable outdoor access, preventing stormwater runoff and stream erosion, limiting flooding events, and protecting against loss of wildlife habitat.” [Note: WeConservePA joined other organizations in advocating for this specific funding provision as it directly affects Pennsylvania. WeConservePA is a member organization of the CDRW, as well.]
- Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) Director of Government Relations Patrick Wojahn: “Now that it is funded, this program (ATIIP) will provide support for the planning and construction of safe and connected trail and active transportation networks and long-distance spine trails. It will enable local communities to build from existing infrastructure for walking and biking to safely connect people to the destinations they travel to every day, while also creating opportunities for sustainable transportation and recreation.”