By Jim Wiesemeyer
via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.
Is USDA Secretary Schafer, White House officials getting nervous regarding CRP issue?
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A decision on whether or not to allow some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants an option to exit the program without penalty was the topic of a White House meeting this week, and perhaps another ahead, sources report.
Most USDA officials continue to push the early-out option, but USDA Secretary Ed Schafer is reportedly nervous about a conservation-program related court ruling scheduled for Thursday and a possible impact of that ruling on the CRP early-out decision.
But some key White House and non-USDA officials are also raising questions, such as:
-- Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle is raising questions about not getting any payment back for participants getting crop coverage payments;
-- The Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) has raised concerns about losing conservation improvements if acreage is brought back into row-crop production;
-- Department of Justice lawyers are noting tomorrow's hearing on another conservation program and are trying to broker a deal with the National Wildlife Federation;
-- Most importantly, Vice President Dick Cheney, who helped kill a CRP early-out option last year, is once again raising conservation-related issues (hunting...) about the possible early-out option
-- At least one high-level USDA official besides Schafer has urged caution on this issue.
Comments: I am told the final CRP decision will be made at the White House – and not by Schafer As for a needed environmental and economic assessment report, USDA started one on this topic under former USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. If those assessments were halted because a CRP early-out decision was not made last year, that could and likely would make Schafer and various lawyers even more nervous -- and again show that USDA lacks follow through on some important policy matters.
If an early-out decision is made, it may well be toned down with fewer potential CRP acres than initial indications.
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