Highlights Her Legislation to Expedite Cost-Sharing Relief After Natural Disasters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing this week, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) questioned U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the need to expedite producers’ access to federal disaster relief and about ways to increase support for small, independent processing facilities. A select transcript is below.


This Congress, Senator Fischer reintroduced the Emergency Conservation Program Improvement Act with U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). The legislation would reform the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) to provide producers impacted by disasters with the option to receive an up-front cost-share based on existing USDA estimates.

In November, Senator Fischer led a letter calling on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan to ensure that very small and small meat and poultry processing facilities are fairly considered under proposed revisions to the Meat and Poultry Products (MPP) Effluent Guidelines and Standards.

Click the image above to watch video of Sen. Fischer’s remarks

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On Wildfires in Western Nebraska:

Senator Fischer: We had a fire this week in central Nebraska that burned over 70,000 acres. And I'm thankful that currently there aren't any reported injuries. But obviously, when you have a significant number of acres like that and the time of year it's taking place, getting hay bales, as well as pasture, it's going to be an issue. So, as we learn of the damages, I appreciate your commitment to work with my office and Nebraskans to get the necessary disaster assistance to producers in a timely manner.

On Reforms to the Emergency Conservation Program:

Senator Fischer: I have a bipartisan bill with Senator Luján that would ensure that USDA has the authority to provide some of those advanced cost share payments for the Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Forest Restoration Program … A lot of times, it takes a year or two to get those payments out, and by then, you could see people out of business.

Secretary Vilsack:
 It's also important because what we're now seeing are disasters on top of disasters. Up in New England, where they basically, they had a flood. And, just when they got things right, they got hit with another disaster — which basically eliminated all the good work they had done up to that point. So, it is important, I think, and necessary for us to figure out a different mechanism for providing the help more quickly to people.

On the Need to Support Independent Processing Facilities:

Senator Fischer:
 The USDA has been investing significant funds to increase independent processing capacity, and I thank you for that. We've seen a number of grants that have been awarded: $186 million went to 24 projects, another $171 million went to other projects. But yet, we see the EPA’s own regulatory analysis shows that, if they take their preferred regulatory route, that anywhere between 16 to 53 of those processing facilities will close as a result. And, my office has heard from a lot of small independent facilities that are concerned that EPA is under estimating the impact of that, and they're worried their facilities are going to close. So, while I thank you for the investment by USDA, are you worried about that?

Secretary Vilsack:
 We provided input to the EPA, which is why their preferred alternative, I think, is limited to 16. They offered three options. The preferred alternative is limited to 16. The third option is the 58. We’ll continue to work with folks. I think we will continue to have a strong commitment to expanding processing. We're not finished with additional resources. We also put together a relending plan so that facilities that may be on the edge now have access to credit to get them to a better place. So, it may very well be that the option is available to address whatever the EPA is requiring.

Senator Fischer:
 I appreciate that as well because, you know, we have three of the four big processors in the state. There’s also a big movement in Nebraska, as you know, to have more localized processing plants and the effect that has on rural communities, local communities, and local producers is tremendous.

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