Environmental Defense welcomed the release of proposed rules for the Conservation Security Program by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and praised the rule's general philosophy.

“We support the philosophy behind the rules of ‘reward the best and motivate the rest’,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Tim Searchinger.

The new program was enacted by the most recent Farm Bill in 2002 and contemplates broad financial incentives to farmers for environmental stewardship. For the first time, the program will reward farmers for good management they have already undertaken on their own. For this fiscal year, however, Congress has limited the budget to $41 million.

“The budget limit this year means the Agriculture Department has hard choices to make,” Searchinger said. “The proposal to limit the program in the first year to target watersheds makes practical sense in light of that limit. We hope the targets will be geographically diverse and focus on opportunities to make immediate gains and that Congress will proceed with plans to remove the spending cap so that all farmers will be eligible to participate.”

Searchinger also praised the proposals to focus a majority of available funds on enhancements above minimum performance levels.

“This program is probably the hardest conservation program the Agriculture Department has ever had to implement because it needs to distinguish and measure the various conservation benefits that can occur on every different kind of farm in the country,” said Searchinger. “It could become the country's most valuable conservation program, but there remain important challenges that the Department has to address in greater detail as the rules and manuals for the program move forward.”

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 400,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems.