Farm energy measure readied for pending House farm bill proposal

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 - A measure introduced Monday by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, would reauthorize core energy programs in a new farm bill, which could be introduced in the House as soon as this week, and marked up by the House Agriculture Committee next week.

Kaptur's legislation, which is a "marker" bill designed to be inserted into the five-year farm legislation being drafted by House Agriculture Committee members, would provide mandatory funding for some energy programs. Much of her measure mirrors an amendment from Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that was adopted as the energy title of a 2012 Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee last month.

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The Senate farm measure, which is under consideration on the Senate floor this week, provides some $800 million in mandatory funding for farm energy programs over the five-year life of the farm bill. Kaptur's bill would budget $255 million annually in mandatory funding, totaling $1.275 billion over the life of the farm bill, $475 million more than the $800 million, five-year outlay in the Senate version. Kaptur's legislation would also authorize another $265 in annual discretionary spending on the core programs, totaling $1.325 billion from 2013 through 2017.

Kaptur and 16 co-sponsors, all Democrats, would reauthorize USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which offers grants and loans for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement for farms and rural business; and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which offers growers financial assistance to grow specialized energy crops for commercial facilities that convert those feed stocks into biofuels, bio products and bio power.

The Rural Energy Investment Act (REIA) of 2012 also would strengthen both the federal bio based products procurement program and the product labeling program for industrial products made from biological feed stocks. It would also fund the Bio refinery Assistance Program, which provides federal loan guarantees for the development, construction and retrofitting of commercial-scale advanced bio refineries. The bill also would make refineries producing bio chemicals fully eligible for participation in this program for the first time.

It would reauthorize the Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative, the Forest Biomass for Energy Program, the Community Wood Energy Program, and fund the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program, and the Biomass Research and Development Program.

The bill has drawn praise from the Biotechnology Industries Organization and the National Farmers Union, among other organizations.

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood said farm bill energy programs "have produced a high rate of return for American taxpayers, in terms of viable projects funded and operating and new employment opportunities in rural areas."

He said the programs "have had a tremendous positive impact in revitalizing rural America, helping new agricultural markets emerge, and reducing the need for direct payments to farmers," and contended they have leveraged private capital for the construction of advanced biofuel bio refineries, sparked an "explosion of renewable chemicals innovation," and incentivized farmers in 12 states to put more than 160,000 acres of "underutilized" farmland back into production raising next generation energy crops.

NFU President Roger Johnson said farm energy programs "are a critical part of spurring rural economic development, creating many jobs in rural America and giving farmers and ranchers an additional income stream that helps them to stay on their land."

He also said the programs are "critical in helping the United States become more energy independent and utilize cellulosic and advanced biofuels grown right here at home.”

Kaptur's measure follows a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter sent to House Agriculture Committee leaders in support of renewing farm energy programs. The letter, which was signed by a dozen House members, including Kaptur and five Republicans, did not specifically request funding for the programs.

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