Peoria Journal Star

June 8, 2001

House buoys river funds
   Panel also earmarks more money for Peoria ag lab

By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A key House panel has approved an increase in federal money next year for the Illinois Rivers 2020 restoration program and the federal ag lab in Peoria.

Taking the first step in drafting a fiscal 2002 agriculture spending bill, the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee this week set aside $600,000 specifically for the Illinois Rivers 2020 program. The money is to come from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation program.

That program - the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) - separately provides the state roughly $3 million a year, according to Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, a member of the appropriations panel. This year, the amount is $3.3 million.

The EQIP program offers farmers and ranchers technical, financial and educational assistance with such environmental problems as soil erosion and water pollution or preserving wildlife habitat, wetlands, forest and grazing lands.

"Some EQIP priority areas are within the Illinois River basin, but this would allow additional funding for those areas and hopefully new areas," said Paul Krone, an environmental specialist with the USDA's Natural
Resources Conservation Service office in Illinois.

The state's 20-year, $2.5 billion river restoration plan calls for a variety of navigation, water quality and wildlife habitat improvements along the Illinois River and its tributaries, including the Sangamon, Fox and Des Plaines Rivers.

The bill, which is expected to go to the full committee next week, also includes $4.5 million for Peoria's federal ag lab to expand research into biomass fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The lab, formally called the National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research, has a total annual budget of $23 million.

The ag lab also would receive another $6.5 million for ongoing construction and renovation. Officials there expect to finish renovating the pilot plant this fall and begin renovating the laboratory wings, which were built in 1940.

The House bill also includes a $1 million increase to the $2.8 million in federal funds currently received by the Biotechnology Research and Development Corporation, a Peoria-based consortium that promotes research and commercialization of new agriculture products.

The funding for Illinois projects is included in $15.5 billion for the USDA in fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1. The subcommittee approved slightly more than President Bush had requested.

USDA funding for the current year is $18.7 billion, including $3.6 billion for natural disaster assistance and emergency assistance for farmers.