WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 -Farm energy advocates are closely watching the House Agriculture Committee mark-up of the 2012 Farm Bill proposal, looking for allies that can revive mandatory funding for the bill’s energy title initiatives. While the measure reauthorizes most key farm energy programs that would otherwise expire when the current five-year farm policy law expires Sept. 30, and would provide discretionary funding for those initiatives, it strips mandatory funding budgeted over the last 10 years.
The Senate last month approved a 2012 Farm Bill proposal that would provide $875 million in mandatory spending over the five-year life of the farm bill (2013-2017) for energy programs like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).
Reviving mandatory funding “is definitely going to be a bigger challenge in the House where the budget politics are more intense,” an analyst with a renewable energy advocacy group told Agri-Pulse. “We hope Congress will recognize that prudent, strategic public investments like the farm bill energy programs can be a critical part of addressing the nation's fiscal challenges. They are about advancing economic growth, which, in turn, will increase government revenue and reduce government welfare expenditures.”
The analyst says advocates are “are still looking for champions on the House Ag Committee who would be willing to lead as Sens. (Kent) Conrad, D-N.D., and (Richard) Lugar, R-Ind., did on the Senate side.”
Noting that “all politics is local,” the analyst said “farm bill energy programs are very popular and have made a difference locally in all fifty states across the country. As the Senate demonstrated, these are the kinds of programs that members from both parties can rally around. Advocates will continue to press this point in the days ahead.”
Mandatory funding, he emphasized, “is the only way to make sure that these critical programs will continue.”
The analyst said supporters do not want to depend on a House-Senate farm bill conference committee to restore mandatory funding.
“It would be far better for the House to signal its own strong commitment to advancing bioenergy and other renewable energy and energy efficiency across rural America,” he said.
Legislation introduced two weeks ago by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, would budget $1.275 billion in mandatory funding for farm energy programs over the next five years. Advocates hope that Kaptur and allies in the House can build support for the bill by reaching across the aisle.
“This should not be a partisan issue,” said one. “This is about continuing the sensible, effective, visionary energy policies that were begun in the last farm bill with strong bipartisan support.”
FARRM would set aside $45 million a year for REAP, compared to $68.2 million in the Senate version, which includes $48.2 million annually in mandatory funding. The House bill also bars USDA from spending REAP money on blender pumps, an approach pursued by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as a way of expanding the market for higher-blend ethanol.
BCAP under the House proposal compares similarly with that detailed in the Senate bill, with the House version providing $75 million in funding annually. That's more than the total $58.6 million budgeted annually in the Senate version, but $38.6 million of the Senate amount would be mandatory.
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