Groups call for mandatory funding for farm energy programs

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2013 - A coalition of more than 130 stakeholder organizations wrote congressional agricultural leaders this week calling for the immediate passage of a five-year farm bill, including re-authorization of the proposed legislation's energy title with $900 million in mandatory funding.

Five-year farm legislation is currently under negotiation in a House-Senate conference committee. A Senate-passed bill authorizes $900 million in mandatory spending for energy title programs, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program and Biobased Markets Program. The House-passed version budgets $1.25 billion, but makes spending discretionary, leaving the future of the programs uncertain.

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House Agriculture Committee Republicans have said funding the programs on a discretionary basis is fiscally responsible in a time of tight budgets. Senate advocates say the programs represent an investment that can grow and economically benefit rural areas.

The national, regional and state renewable energy, farm commodity and conservation stakeholder groups, ranging from the Renewable Fuels Association to the American Wind Energy Association to the National Association of Conservation Districts, say in the letter to principal negotiators on the conference committee that the farm energy programs are critical to U.S. policy.

The United States “is experiencing strong growth in the development and commercialization of biofuels, bioproducts, biopower, biogas, energy crops, renewable energy, renewable chemicals and energy efficiency,” according to the letter, which went to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the  panel's ranking member, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “These important and growing industries all benefit agriculture and forestry and are poised to make huge contributions to our economic, environmental and national security in the coming years, provided that we maintain stable policies that support clean energy manufacturing and innovation.”

The letter asserts that the energy-title programs contained in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills “are vital components in the continued growth of these industries,” adding that they “strongly support American agriculture and ensure broad public benefits to the entire country.”

Advocates note that while all states benefit from energy title initiatives, many of the programs are relatively new and the next five years will be crucial for achieving success.

“Many tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs are being created or saved in rural areas by our nation's expanding clean-energy economy,” the groups wrote. “This growth is occurring due in large part to farm bill energy programs, which have used a modest amount of federal money to leverage billions of dollars in private investment. These new agriculture, manufacturing, and high technology jobs are at risk without continued federal investment.”

Energy title programs accounted for a mere 0.7 percent of overall spending in the 2008 Farm Bill, the letter says, adding that as longstanding agricultural safety net programs lose funding or end, investments in the energy programs create new opportunities for producers and rural communities to cut input costs and diversify income.

The letter acknowledges the fiscal challenges facing the agriculture committees, but says reauthorized and fully funded energy programs can be preserved with the knowledge that energy investments can help ease Congress' fiscal challenge in the years ahead.

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