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Spending, Energy Bills Front and Center

posted on January 16, 2004


Conservation groups this week threatened to sue the Army Corps of Engineers over its management of the Missouri River. In fact, the groups warned that current Army Corps policy will lead to a "crossfire of lawsuits up and down the river."

The same groups filed a lawsuit last summer that resulted in a federal judge ordering changes in the river's flow. When the Army Corps refused the ruling, it was cited for contempt. Further court action was subsequently postponed.

There's still a chance Congress may choose to intervene in the whole river management mess. But as lawmakers prepare to reconvene in the week ahead, they've already got their hands full ... not with taking on new business but with finishing the old.

Spending, Energy Bills Front and Center The U.S. Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday and there's no shortage of thorny issues awaiting lawmakers. First on the agenda will be a massive spending bill that Congress left unfinished late last year. The proposed $373 billion measure would fund 11 Cabinet departments and dozens of agencies.

The House already has passed the bill, which contains nearly 8,000 special earmarks worth more than $10.7 billion. Called "pork projects" by critics, many of the special expenditures are agricultural in nature. They range from $2 million to help specialty cheese makers ... to $360,000 for studies on the alternative uses of citrus byproducts.

In broader terms, concern over the runaway federal budget deficit could end up costing all of agriculture. According to the staff director for the House Agriculture Committee, future cuts in government spending could hit hard in farm country. Bill O'Connor told the American Farm Bureau convention this week that many in Washington have NOT forgotten the generosity of the 2002 farm bill. He said his sense was that agriculture would have "a very big bull's eye" on its back when it comes to trimming the budget.

Similar hard feelings also exist over the unfinished $96 billion energy bill. Passage of that legislation is deemed critical by farm interests because the bill contains a renewable fuels standard that will dramatically boost the production of corn-based ethanol.

But a controversial provision in the measure that gives a liability waiver to the makers of MTBE stalled the legislation in December. MTBE, the petroleum-based competitor to ethanol, has been shown to cause groundwater pollution. Many lawmakers who backed the ethanol provision in the energy bill refused to accept the MTBE waiver and a legislative stalemate ensued.

The hope for many farm groups when the Senate reconvenes is that the MTBE waiver will be stripped form the legislation, allowing the energy bill to be approved and then enacted by early next year.


Tags: Congress energy policy government news