WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a business meeting held earlier today, the House Committee on Agriculture passed four bills regarding two land transfers by the Forest Service, a renewable fuel initiative and the protection of farmland from urban sprawl. H.R. 5103, H.R. 4559, H.R. 5313, and H.Con.Res. 424 passed by voice vote and were ordered to be reported favorably to the Floor with the recommendation that they do pass.
This bill provides for the conveyance of the former Konnarock Lutheran Girls School in Symth County, Virginia from the Forest Service to the Evangelical Lutheran Coalition for the Mission in Appalachia. An amendment in the nature of a substitute was adopted to reduce the acreage of the conveyance from ten acres to no more than six acres, require that the land and buildings be conveyed “as is”, and require the Lutheran Coalition pay the cost of conducting a survey. The Lutheran Coalition plans to restore/preserve the historic structures on the property, build a retreat center, and work with area colleges to develop an environmental learning center on the land.
This bill authorizes the Forest Service to sell two tracts of land in the neighboring towns of Laona and Wabeno, Wisconsin. The intent of the land sales is to spur economic development by providing the towns room to grow and allow the Forest Service to acquire more sensitive lands that have higher natural resource value. The Chairman offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute to eliminate a section of the bill authorizing the Forest Service to sell two other tracts. The amendment also directs the proceeds of the Wisconsin land sales to be deposited into a specific fund. The amendment was agreed to.
This bill, entitled “Open Space and Farmland Preservation Challenge Grant Act”, amends the Farm Security Act of 1985 to set aside 15 percent of Farmland Protection funds for cost-share grants to support the purchase of conservation easements by eligible state agencies, county agencies, and one or more eligible entities. The Farmland Protection Program is administered by Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides funds to state, tribal, and local governments, and non-governmental organizations to help them purchase conservation easements from willing sellers to limit conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. Currently, the federal government contributes up to 50 percent of the cost-share program. H.R. 5313 lowers the federal contribution to 25 percent allowing the federal dollars to go further.
This resolution, also known as 25x’25, recognizes the importance of agriculture in meeting the nation’s energy needs and sets a noble goal for America, where by the year 2025, 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States will be provided by renewable sources from America’s agricultural, forestry and working lands. More than 280 groups, including agriculture and forestry groups as well as business and environmental organizations, and 20 state governors endorse the initiative. Chairman Goodlatte introduced the 25x’25 resolution in June and the bill has garnered the support of 83 bi-partisan co-sponsors.
A full transcript of today’s business meeting will be posted on the Committee website in 4-6 weeks.