WASHINGTON, July 19, 2017 - Two farm bill energy programs that President Trump proposed to eliminate are now running into trouble in Congress, too. In writing the Agriculture Department’s fiscal 2018 budget, the House Appropriations Committee rejected most of Trump’s proposals to gut or eliminate USDA programs, including in the Rural Development area.
But the committee notably didn’t spare the two RD energy programs – the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance, which is known as the Section 9003 program, for the portion of the farm bill that authorizes it.
“These cuts will set back ag energy progress that serves every state and can help every ag sector.” said Lloyd Ritter of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. “These cuts must be reversed as they mean higher costs, fewer jobs and less opportunity at a time when rural America faces severe challenges and economic pain.”
The 2014 farm bill mandated $50 million in annual spending for REAP, which provides grants and loans for renewable energy projects and energy efficiency improvements. But the House Appropriations subcommittee that writes USDA’s budget bill reduced that funding to $9 million for FY18. Then, the full committee on July 12 adopted a manager’s amendment to the USDA bill that would slash REAP to just $1 million. (The manager’s amendment shifted money around in the USDA budget to shore up programs such as farm loans and international food aid.)
REAP-funded projects have included new refrigeration units in rural grocery stores, solar panels for farms, and energy-efficient lighting systems for rural businesses.
Similarly, the subcommittee originally provided $31 million to Section 9003, the biorefinery funding program, but the manager’s amendment stripped that funding from the bill. The program provides loan guarantees to develop commercial-scale biorefineries and to retrofit existing facilities.
The farm bill mandated funding for the biorefinery program at $100 million in 2014 and $50 million in 2015 and 2016. Nothing was mandated for FY18.
The cuts don’t bode well for preserving energy program spending in the next farm bill. Section 9003 is one of seven energy programs authorized by the 2014 farm bill that have no funding, or “baseline,” after next year. That means that continued funding for the programs will likely have to come out of cuts to other areas of the farm bill. REAP is better off. It is the only energy program that has baseline post-2018.
“I do think it’s a challenging time for a lot of these so-called green type of investments across the board,” said Ritter. “It’ a tough moment for all things renewable.”
His coalition is preparing farm bill proposals that will be sent to Capitol Hill by September. Ritter believes the Agriculture committees will need to find continued funding for the energy programs in order to maintain the broad congressional coalition needed to pass the legislation.
Supporters of the programs also will be counting on assistance from lawmakers who have championed the programs in the past, including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In the House, lawmakers such as David Young, R-Iowa, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, will be important. Both Young and Pingree spoke out against the cuts during the House Appropriations Committee debate on July 12.
“We all know that the farm bills are getting tougher and tougher to do,” said Ritter. Ending the energy programs “will reduce the very broad coalition that we have to pass a farm bill.”