Inhofe, Coburn, Lucas Blast Environmental Groups For Blocking Critical Oklahoma Drought Assistance
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, together with Senator Tom Coburn and Congressman Frank Lucas expressed outrage today over a temporary restraining order granted by Judge John Coughenour of the Western District of Washington Federal Court in Seattle on Tuesday July 8, 2008, at the request of National Wildlife Federation and seven state affiliates. The decision blocked the release of some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing. In May, USDA announced the decision to allow haying and grazing on CRP acres, stipulating that it could only take place after the nesting season for birds in the state. A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Senator Inhofe has been working with Senator Tom Coburn, Congressman Frank Lucas, and USDA to ensure relief to farmers and ranchers in Northwest Oklahoma.
Sen. Inhofe: “As Oklahoma farmers and ranchers suffer from the devastating effects of a recent drought, it’s simply outrageous that several national liberal special interest groups have blocked critical federal assistance.Northwest Oklahoma farmers and ranchers are struggling to survive the conditions and USDA very wisely enacted a program to provide some relief. I am hopeful for a quick decision tomorrow in favor of getting relief back on track to those that are in dire need. The environmentalists make the absurd claim that this drought relief will somehow ‘significantly increase global warming.’”
Dr. Coburn: “It is an outrage that the livelihood of Oklahoma ranchers and farmers is being put in jeopardy because of liberal special interest groups. Ranchers in western Oklahoma are trying to sustain livestock operations in the middle of one the worst drought our state has faced. The unfounded and absurd claims of extreme environmentalists and their lawyers have placed entire herds in real danger. I stand strong with Senator Inhofe and Congressman Frank Lucas in opposing this action.”
Congressman Lucas: “The use of CRP land for haying and grazing was greatly needed by the ranchers and farmers suffering from unusually high feed costs and a severe drought in the Third Congressional District and all over Oklahoma.Many farmers and ranchers relied on the release of these lands, and the decision by this court to suspend its use has already had a very negative effect. I am hopeful that a decision is made quickly in this case restoring haying and grazing rights to those people who need it.”
As reported in the Oklahoma Farm Report, Oklahoma Cattlemen's Executive Director Scott Dewald explained the dire consequences of the ruling: “Dewald documented thirty ranchers that will lose almost $10,000 apiece if they are not allowed to graze the CRP land that was offered to them by Uncle Sam. Worse, many of those herds will face partial or total liquidation as the CRP land was one of their last options to survive the summer.”
Mike Spradling, Oklahoma Farm Bureau President:“Farm Bureau is extremely concerned about the severe economic hardship this injunction imposes on farmers and ranchers. Producers relied on USDA’s announcement about the new program and have already begun using their precious financial resources to prepare the land for haying and grazing. It’s important for the court to hear from farmers and ranchers about the harmful effects of this injunction, both since July 8 when the injunction was issued and going forward.”
Ray Wulf, President of the American Farmers and Ranchers: “The Lawsuit and restraining order brought forward by the National Wildlife Federation is just another example of special interests being allowed to impose their misguided purpose in front of the needs of farmers, ranchers and consumers. This restriction is having a profound impact on the economic needs and survival of farmers, ranchers and their communities devastated by drought. This action will ultimately lead to further increases in the surging price for groceries that consumers are already experiencing. The philosophy being advocated by the National Wildlife Federation is counterproductive to supplying food for consumers' table.”
A July 9, 2008 letter was sent to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer in support of the temporary restraining order by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation.
According to the article in the High Plains Journal, “Judge issues restraining order stopping emergency grazing on CRP” by Jennifer M. Latzke, “This decision affects 24 million acres of CRP land that was opened to Critical Feed Use provisions by the USDA May 27. The opening of those acres was to occur after the primary nesting season had ended for grass-nesting birds. The acres were to provide feed and forage to alleviate the escalating price of feed for livestock producers. Several states had begun opening up their CRP acres as of July 2, including Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Colorado was set to begin activity July 15. Texas, the largest state has 583,000 acres available for signup in the program, followed by Colorado with 253,000 acres, Oklahoma with 210,00 acres, and and New Mexico with 177,000 acres.”
High Plains JournalJudge issues restraining order stopping emergency grazing on CRP
A U.S. District Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order that stops emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres. Late Tuesday, July 8, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington, Seattle, granted a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Services Agency, effectively stopping the Critical Feed Use provisions set forth.
The order, filed on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and six of its affiliates, stops USDA from processing or approving any additional CRP contract modifications that allow haying or grazing. It also further ordered the USDA to contact those CRP participants already haying or grazing lands that they must remove cattle and halt haying operations immediately.
FSA offices have already begun notifying producers of the restraining order.
This decision affects 24 million acres of CRP land that was opened to Critical Feed Use provisions by the USDA May 27. The opening of those acres was to occur after the primary nesting season had ended for grass-nesting birds. The acres were to provide feed and forage to alleviate the escalating price of feed for livestock producers. Several states had begun opening up their CRP acres as of July 2, including Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Colorado was set to begin activity July 15. Texas, the largest state has 583,000 acres available for signup in the program, followed by Colorado with 253,000 acres, Oklahoma with 210,00 acres, and and New Mexico with 177,000 acres.
Congressman Jerry Moran, R-KS, is a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture, and released a statement early July 10 regarding the order.
"It is unfortunate that this action has taken place especially in this late hour after producers have made stocking decisions," Moran said. "I am working with USDA officials to determine ways to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I am also considering legislative action. This is an example of an environmental group obstructing legitimate agriculture policy decisions."
The National Wildlife Federation, with 14 other conservation groups, wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, July 9. The letter urged him to reject pressure from Congress and other producer groups "to allow the penalty-free early release of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)."
"A penalty-free early release of the magnitude you are considering-millions of acres-would deliver a devastating blow to the nation's soil, water, and wildlife habitat, and significantly increase global warming," said the letter.
"Because most CRP lands are marginal for cropping, even if all CRP acres were brought back into commodity production, the impact on aggregate commodity supplies and prices would be modest… We urge you to protect the taxpayers' investment in soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat and not allow landowners to leave CRP contracts early without fully reimbursing the Treasury for the taxpayer-funded investment in those lands."
The letter opposing these proposals is signed by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation. This temporary order is for 10 days, with an argument on the motion for preliminary injunction set for July 17. The USDA has until July 13 to file a response to the preliminary injunction.