EPW Hearing Statement: The Agriculture Creates Real Employment (ACRE) Act

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on, “S. __, the Agriculture Creates Real Employment (ACRE) Act.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We can certainly agree on the title of the legislation we are considering here today. There’s no doubt that ‘Agriculture creates real employment’ across our country and, certainly, in my home state of Delaware. As I have said at previous hearings, agriculture is a critical economic driver in Delaware. Over 40 percent of our land is dedicated to farming, and our state’s agricultural sector employs some 30,000 Delawareans, while contributing nearly $8 billion a year to our state’s economy.

“As my colleagues have also heard me say, I believe our country’s environmental laws and regulations have by-and-large served our entire nation, including our farmers, quite well. It is possible to have clean air and clean water, to protect our land and conserve species, and still have good jobs. It takes some work to find the right solutions to achieve that balance, but the hard work pays off. One such example is the FARM Act, which is included as one of the sections in the ACRE Act. Mr. Chairman, as you know, we worked hard to strike a careful compromise on this legislation.  In my opinion, the FARM Act is an example of where we did a good job balancing the needs of our farmers while preserving access to information that can help protect public health.

“Unfortunately, I do not believe the ACRE Act, in its entirety, represents that same thoughtful approach. The legislation recognizes and attempts to address concerns raised by some of our farmers. As drafted though, I don’t believe that it adequately balances those interests with the interests of other natural-resource dependent industries.

“For example, Delaware has a booming wildlife tourism industry. Visitors come from all over the world to observe migratory birds in Delaware, including the federally-threatened Red Knot. A 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study found that more than 45 million people enjoyed birdwatching that year, joining other wildlife watchers in contributing more than $75 billion to the U.S. economy. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) help ensure the long-term viability of this industry.

“In its current form, I fear that the ACRE Act could have harmful implications for these important laws.  Having said that, there may be ways to address farmers’ concerns without unintended consequences. For example, our federal agencies can work with stakeholders to explore Administrative options that may resolve endangered species and migratory bird concerns. Or we, in this Committee, may be able to reach narrower, truly bipartisan compromises on some of the items contained in the ACRE Act.

“Further, there are stewardship success stories this Committee and the Congress should examine that are examples of ways to improve collaboration and conservation outcomes in agriculture. For example, just last year in the town of Blades, located in southwestern Delaware, Perdue Farms worked with several communities to expand its multi-million dollar nutrient recycling investment on Delmarva. This investment in a new composting operation increased the company’s capacity to handle surplus poultry litter and allowed other agricultural by-products to be recycled. This effort is good for Perdue, good for our communities, and good for the Chesapeake Bay. We have also taken other important steps in Delaware to help farmers become even better stewards of the land.

“When I served as Governor, we addressed high levels of agricultural runoff by forming the Nutrient Management Commission. The Commission brought together farmers and members of the environmental community to devise a common-sense solution: have farmers check the nutrient levels in their fields, develop plans to keep those nutrients at non-polluting levels and provide the training necessary to implement the plans. Initiatives like those led by the Nutrient Management Commission and smart investments like those made by Perdue, are just two examples that this Committee can, and should, look to as we strive to protect clean air and clean water while also creating economic opportunity in our agricultural industries.

“I look forward to working with all of our colleagues to advance current and future legislation that supports our farmers and protects our environment. And I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses before us today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”