WASHINGTON, March 21, 2012 -In the latest in a series of Obama administrative efforts to counter Republican criticism of White House energy policies, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday released a report USDA officials said highlights “the ways in which USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) contributes to U.S. energy independence and helps rural small businesses and farmers become more energy efficient.”

“The Obama Administration understands that helping our nation become more energy efficient is key to continuing the current economic recovery and reducing our reliance on foreign oil," Vilsack said in his announcement releasing the report. “Stable energy costs are a prime factor in an employer's decision to expand a business or hire new workers. That is why USDA has partnered with more than 13,000 of America's farmers, ranchers and rural businesses to improve their bottom line by helping them find energy efficient solutions that will spur economic growth and prosperity in rural America.”

House Republicans have been particularly critical of the USDA’s use of REAP funding to install blender pumps that can enlarge the market for higher ethanol blends in gasoline. House GOP appropriators have tried over the past two years to gut funding for the program. The agricultureal appropriations adopted by Congress have slashed the program from more than $100 million in fiscal 2010 to $25.4 million this fiscal year.

Despite the administration’s contention that REAP is part of the president's “all-of-the-above”: approach to energy, the White House only asked for $4.6 million for the program in its fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

The program traditionally offers rural farming and business operations energy audits, and funding through grants and loans for energy efficiency modifications. The program also helps fund renewable energy systems, including anaerobic digesters on livestock operations.

The report issued by Vilsack listed a number of REAP accomplishments during the Obama administration, including some $192 million in grants and $165 million in loan guarantees in support of more than 5,700 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Calling REAP the USDA Rural Development office's most successful and competitive renewable energy and energy efficiency program, the department is using the report's release to kick off events in Rural Development state offices across the country to demonstrate the benfits of REAP.

Vilsack said that in lieu of specific renewable energy program funding – many 2008 Farm Bill energy title programs are set to terminate with the expiration of the Farm Bill on September 30, and with no baseline funding estimates available to revive them in a new farm bill – he wants Congress to give him the flexibility to use other program funds to push renewable energy development. During the next several weeks, RD state offices will conduct energy stakeholder roundtable meetings to highlight their programs that help businesses conserve energy.

USDA also announced Tuesday the application deadline for REAP funding and loan guarantees, using appropriated funding that remains. Applications for REAP guaranteed loans for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements are being accepted at state Rural Development offices through June 29. However, applications for REAP grants and loan/grant combinations must be submitted no later than March 30th. For information on how to apply for REAP funding, click HERE.



Original story printed in March 21, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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