House approps aims to cut mandatory farm energy program funding

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 21, 2014 - Cuts proposed by House appropriators to mandatory funding for farm energy programs authorized by the recently adopted five-year farm bill are targeting successful initiatives that play a key role in boosting the rural economy, according to programs advocates.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee passed a funding plan that made no changes in mandatory spending for farm energy programs.

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"It was not unheard of, but up until a few years ago, it was pretty unusual for the Appropriations Committee to step on mandatory funding that's called for in the underlying legislation," said a wind energy lobbyist. "But given the partisan conflict that's dominates budget debates, it's not surprising anymore.”

The changes in mandatory program spending, or "CHIMPS" in appropriation language, have been used by Democrats in recent years to stave off a program's elimination yet still meet deficit reduction targets. Republicans, including the majority of the House Appropriations Committee, see CHIMPS as necessary to stem spending. House appropriators have also cut mandatory spending for conservation programs.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said at a hearing on the USDA budget in March that while the department budget proposes cuts in both mandatory and discretionary, he's not buying it.

“Over the last few years, we have seen [USDA's] artificially low estimates on mandatory spending blown up by the middle of the year,” the chairman said. “It's time to get serious about this mandatory spending problem.”

Specifically, the measure passed out of the House subcommittee Tuesday would cut mandatory spending for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) from the $50 million authorized by the farm bill down to $30 million. The program provides loans and grants to farms, ranches and small rural businesses for renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades. Also, a farm-bill authorized $50 million for the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, would fall to $22 million under the spending bill passed Tuesday.

A program that offers funding to growers to establish dedicated energy crops - the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) - would provide $15 million in fiscal 2015 under the appropriations measure. The farm bill authorized $25 million in mandatory spending for BCAP in each of the next five years.

Shortly after the full House Appropriations Committee released its bill Monday, Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC), an alliance of renewable energy, energy efficiency and farm groups, vowed to fight the cutbacks in spending on farm energy programs his group and others say are critical to the rural economy.

“The renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the farm bill help rural America create new biobased manufacturing opportunities and stable, well-paying jobs,” Ritter said.

The mandatory funding authorized in the farm bill aimed to stabilize the programs and provide business certainty, Ritter said.

“The modest investments made through that bill would pay major dividends for energy security, economic growth, and environmental gains across the United States,” he said. The appropriations bill seeks to "roll back the farm bill by targeting the successful energy title programs for changes in mandatory spending and blocking the USDA's ability to administer them.”

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