Press Releases

Sen. Warner Successfully Maintains Ches. Bay, Rural Broadband as Priorities in Farm Bill

~ Broad, bipartisan legislation incorporates two Warner amendments ~

Jun 10 2013

WASHINGTON – The United States Senate today voted in support of the bipartisan Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, which will benefit Virginia farmers. The final bill included amendments sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) that provide a strong foundation for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and tools to extend high-speed Internet service to rural America. The 2013 Farm Bill, which saves taxpayers more than $23 billion, was approved with broad bipartisan support on a 66-27 vote today.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program

The farm bill consolidates the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program with similar conservation programs into a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to leverage non-government funds to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities. As a result of the efforts of the Bay state senators, conservation funds in the RCPP for regions with the greatest conservation needs saw a significant increase. Sens. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) worked with Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Bob Casey (D-PA), to ensure the new RCPP maintains the Bay program as a priority under this new system, maintaining efforts already underway through the existing Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative.

“I am pleased we were able to come together as Bay state senators to fight for the Chesapeake Bay, supporting our farmers and the livelihoods of those who depend upon the Bay,” Sen. Warner said. “With this new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, we both sustain Bay-related jobs and continue providing Virginia’s farmers with the tools they need to help conserve this important watershed.”

“Senators Warner and Kaine, together with colleagues from nearby states, did an extraordinary job of providing technical assistance and cost-share funding for Virginia’s farmers,” said Ann Jennings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia executive director. “These funds will help more farms manage their operations to improve Virginia rivers and the Bay.”

"The Farm Bill matters not only to agricultural interests, but to all Virginians, and I applaud the Senate’s vote today. I want to thank Senators Warner and Kaine specifically not only for supporting final passage of the bill but also for consistently standing up for conservation throughout during debate on the bill and a host of amendments,” said Michael Lipford, The Nature Conservancy's Virginia Director. “The Farm Bill’s investment in land conservation and environmental stewardship are important for our economy and our way of life, from the Eastern Shore, to the Shenandoah Valley, to Southwest Virginia.”

Broadband Reform at USDA

The second Warner Amendment seeks to provide the Rural Utility Service (RUS) with tools to better target loans and grants to unserved communities and to extend comparable broadband services to rural America. The provision enacts meaningful reforms that have been recommended by the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General at USDA for the past decade but never implemented. The amendment provides meaningful broadband access for unserved rural communities by requiring that at least 25 percent of households in a proposed project area qualify as unserved or underserved. It also requires RUS to write guidelines to recover funds from loan defaults, failure to meet performance metrics, and opportunities to consolidate and minimize administrative overlap across RUS broadband programs and directs RUS to set aside at least 1% of appropriated funds to implement the oversight and accountability measures required by the amendment. In addition, the amendment enhances broadband mapping in order to assess the availability of broadband services across the country. The National Broadband Map, launched in 2010, is a necessary first step in assessing the availability of broadband services across the country; however, it is not specific enough. The amendment requires RUS loan and grant recipients to provide broadband build-out data for use in the National Broadband Map so that RUS can better utilize more specific data in future funding decisions

“Since the 2002 Farm Bill, more than $2 billion has been obligated through loans and grant programs managed by RUS in order to foster greater investment in broadband services across rural America,” Sen. Warner said. “It is critical to ensure that the program is updated to better meet the needs of more than 18 million Americans who are still without any broadband service at all. “

“Obtaining affordable broadband services for unserved areas remains a priority for the Commonwealth,” said Karen Jackson, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Technology. “The Warner amendment not only better positions resources to enhance the delivery of services, it also increases transparency to ensure scarce dollars are targeted and spent to the greatest benefit of citizens.”

Due to an unexpected personal matter, Senator Warner could not attend today’s vote. However, in a statement submitted for the Congressional Record, he indicated that he would have voted in favor of the bill.

To view a copy of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, please visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website. A section-by-section summary of the bill also is available at the site.