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Report finds over 50% of federal funds aimed at 'climate-smart' farming are misused: 'Essentially encouraging more livestock production'

For its part, the USDA has denied the allegations.

For its part, the USDA has denied the allegations.

Photo Credit: iStock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has allocated billions toward encouraging "climate-smart" farming, but a new report discovered that a large chunk of those federal funds may not be having the desired effect.

What happened? 

In a February press release, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group revealed that more than half of the spending by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — a conservation initiative by the USDA — went to practices that haven't been proven to reduce harmful pollution.

Of the $5.5 billion EQIP granted to farmers between 2017 and 2022, only $1.7 billion was invested in actions known to capture carbon in the soil or cut down on carbon pollution associated with agriculture. 

Adjusting for the addition of 15 practices to the "climate-smart" list this year, mostly focused on livestock and irrigation management, that percentage of misused funds would increase to 63%, as the new items have no data to support the climate-friendly claims. 

"The USDA is essentially encouraging more livestock production, making it cheaper by subsidizing activities on these farms," Silvia Secchi, an agriculture and water sustainability researcher at Iowa University, told the Guardian. "What that means is all the climate benefits are going to be countered by the expansion of these facilities. So I wouldn't call this 'climate smart.'"

Why is this important? 

Overproduction of livestock is bad for the environment on multiple levels, so if regulations are out of calibration, that could lead to a cascade of practices that contribute to an unbalanced planet. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 40% of methane production is a "direct result of our livestock and agricultural practices," with one cow generating between 154 to 264 pounds of the potent heat-trapping gas in a year. 

Animal agriculture has also been linked to water pollution and deforestation, which can harm wildlife that depend on trees for shelter and reduce the Earth's ability to soak up carbon

What is being done about this? 

For its part, the USDA has denied the allegations from the nonprofit, telling the Guardian that "EWG did not take into account the rigorous, science-based methodology used by USDA to determine eligible practices, nor the level of specificity required during the implementation process to ensure the practices' climate-smart benefits are being maximized." 

However, at the beginning of February, 15 members of Congress wrote a letter to the USDA calling for the removal of certain practices for conservation funds, with waste storage systems and roofs for biogas capture facilities named among the points of concern. 

Senator Cory Booker, who has previously been involved in efforts to hold the agriculture sector accountable, was notably one of the signers.  

"We request a briefing on the decision to make these activities eligible and how this decision will affect the allocation of IRA conservation funding through 2031," the letter stated.

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