Can Alex Padilla and other western senators convince the Biden administration to make drought relief a higher priority as it doles out $20 billion in climate-change funding for agriculture?
Padilla, a California Democrat, is trying to get the attention of President Joe Biden and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack as the drought fallows large swaths of farmland and kills off livestock.
“As you know, the Inflation Reduction Act invested $20 billion through key conservation programs to ensure that the agricultural sector plays a central role in combatting the climate crisis,” Padilla and five other senators wrote in a letter sent to Biden administration officials today.
“We urge you to pay special attention to practices that also address drought, including enhancing groundwater recharge, reducing salinity, improving irrigation efficiencies, reducing pumping, and utilizing organic practices. These and other practices will help meet climate goals while also helping Western farmers currently facing the worst megadrought in 1,200 years.”
The letter was signed by Padilla and five fellow Democrats: Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon, and Patty Murray of Washington.
A Bipartisan Letter to USDA as Well
On Dec. 7, Padilla joined a bipartisan group of 14 western senators urging the USDA in a letter to focus programs and funding on the region’s drought conditions. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) led that effort.
“The American West is in crisis,” the lawmakers wrote. “Across the major basins of the American West — including the Colorado River Basin, the Rio Grande Basin, the Great Basin, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin, the Columbia River Basin, and the Arkansas-White-Red Basin — farm and ranch families hang in the balance as they grapple with a 22-year mega-drought. The acute shortage of water for Western growers threatens productive farmland across our states, which are both a pillar of our rural economies and drivers of America’s food production.”
The lawmakers continued: “Congress funded $20 billion for USDA agriculture conservation programs. We believe USDA should allocate these funds for agriculture conservation equally across the country to reflect the contribution of every region, including the West.”
A spokesperson for the USDA told Politico that the agency will “continue to take feedback from folks on the ground” as it rolls out Inflation Reduction Act funds.