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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Hearing: Rehabilitation of the Chesapeake Bay: Healing in the Bay the Voluntary Way

Remarks as prepared:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing.  Over the course of the 114th Congress, the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee has held a series of hearings to highlight the success of voluntary conservation by our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters.

Today’s discussion, “Healing the Bay the Voluntary Way”, takes a more focused approach to this discussion.  The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the U.S., is an incredibly complex ecosystem that includes important habitats and is a cherished part of our American heritage. The Bay’s watershed includes all types of land uses, from intensely urban areas, spread out suburban development and diverse agricultural practices. But, unquestionably the Bay is in need and worthy of our attention and concern, and I believe everyone has a role to play in restoring it.

With USDA’s recent report on the improved health of the Chesapeake Bay, it is timely that the committee should highlight the voluntary conservation efforts that are being implemented by producers. I want be sure that the agriculture community receives the credit it deserves for engaging in voluntary practices that reduce nutrient and sediment runoff.

However, it has become increasingly clear that some government agencies and environmental activist organizations ignore or otherwise discount the commitment our farmers, ranchers and foresters make to environmental stewardship. The critics forget that farmers and ranchers are the original and best stewards of the land. Farmer and ranchers continually find new and innovative ways to reduce energy usage, reduce emissions, and sequester carbon while still providing America with an abundant and affordable food and fiber supply. This is something the critics conveniently forget, especially when discussing restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. 

The goal from all involved is the same, the continued health and vitality of the Bay, but the road to that health and vitality is being strongly debated.  It is a clear choice, overregulation and intrusion into the lives and livelihoods of those who chose to make the Bay’s watershed their home, or incentive-based programs that help restore and protect our natural resources.  EPA and other regulators fail to realize that fear and intimidation is no way to govern.

No two producers face the same natural resource concerns. Voluntary conservation initiatives are the only way to respond to natural resource concerns because they can be tailored to best address each concern. We have seen time and again that top-down, one-size-fits-all is the least effective solution to a country as diverse as this. Whether the farms are 2 miles or 2,000 miles apart from each other – protecting our drinkable water supply, keeping nutrients in the soil for the next crop year, or maintaining a supply of forage for livestock, there is no shortage of reasons why we must continue to innovate when it comes to preserving our natural resources.

In addition to the great work being done at the state and county levels, I am proud that so many of the farmers and foresters in Pennsylvania have taken voluntary steps in order to do their part to assist in the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay.  The environmental gains they have achieved are a testament to our producers.

I’d also like to highlight the trust built between those who deliver conservation programs and farmers who depend on their technical assistance. These invaluable relationships are the core of the voluntary conservation model, and I would strongly caution any agency or organization who wishes to change this model for success.

I am proud of the fact that farmers are taking real, on-the-ground, daily steps to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region and across the country. With that, I thank our witnesses for being here today, and I recognize Ranking Member Lujan Grisham for any comments she would like to make.