Michigan lawmakers urge feds to end tax credits for ‘inhumane’ factory farms

Photo Illustration/AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

By Kyle Kaminski

February 7, 2024

US Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shri Thanedar think tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act should support local farmers—not industrial, pollution-causing mega-farms.

MICHIGAN—Two US representatives from Michigan have joined a coalition of federal lawmakers in opposing a recent decision from the US Department of Agriculture that they contend will force taxpayers to subsidize pollution-causing practices at large factory farms.

Here’s the deal:

When President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law in 2022, billions of dollars were allocated to two federal initiatives—the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program—to help farmers adopt climate-smart agricultural practices.

By providing tax credits to farmers who implement certain conservation practices, lawmakers had hoped to simultaneously protect the environment and fight back against global climate change by directly incentivizing farmers who were willing to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

And when the funding was rolled out last fall, federal officials touted the new investments as a way to help “hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land”—namely by promoting environmentally friendly practices like cover cropping, conservation tillage, wetland restoration, prescribed grazing, tree planting, and more.

“Ultimately, this will lead to economic opportunity for producers, more productive soil, cleaner water and air, healthier wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation for future generations,” US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement announcing the funds in September.

What’s the problem?

This year, the Inflation Reduction Act provides a record $1.65 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $472 million for the Conservation Stewardship Program.

But federal lawmakers are growing concerned that most of those federal funds may wind up in the wrong hands, according to a joint letter sent to Vilsack last week by 15 members of Congress—including US Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shri Thanedar (D-Michigan).

Specifically, the lawmakers criticized a recent decision from the US Natural Resource Conservation Service to make several “industrial animal agriculture” practices often used at factory farms eligible for federal incentives—including waste storage facilities, roofs and covers for biogas capture facilities, feed management for livestock, and waste separation facilities.

Their chief concern: Those practices don’t really do much to protect the environment, and they may actually be preventing small- and mid-size farms from receiving a fair share of the funds.

“These practices further entrench the unsustainable, inhumane industrial model by funneling a significant portion of conservation dollars to a handful of large producers instead of supporting more small and mid-sized producers employing meaningful conservation practices,” lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Incentivizing resource intensive industrial practices that disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities runs counter to the purpose of the Inflation Reduction Act to meaningfully lower greenhouse gas emissions and address environmental injustice.”

In the letter, lawmakers also said they want the federal conservation funding to be more narrowly tailored to better support small, family farms—instead of only “rewarding the largest firms and incentivizing farmers to increase herd size in order to generate more manure.”

“Small farms already struggle to get funding from oversubscribed conservation programs, and this decision will make more conservation funding flow to the largest farms,” the letter reads. “These newly added practices are an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars and ineffective way to advance climate goals. There are a number of other practices, including regenerative prescribed grazing, cover cropping, and increased riparian buffers, that are far more effective at mitigating climate change and which can be employed by far more producers at lower cost per project.”

In addition to removing industrial-centric practices from the list of eligible conservation practices, the lawmakers have also requested a briefing on the decision to make these activities eligible and how this decision will affect the allocation of federal conservation funding through 2031.

Among the other lawmakers who signed the letter to Vilsack: US Sens Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as US Reps. Alma Adams (D-North Carolina), Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-Illinois), Ro Khanna (D-California), Barbara Lee (D-California), Summer Lee (D-Pennsylvania), James P. McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Richard E. Neal (D-Massachusetts), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington DC).

Click here to read the full letter.

READ MORE: Poop pollution case reaches Michigan Supreme Court

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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