WASHINGTON, September 6, 2017 - The Agriculture Energy Coalition (AEC) has some suggestions for lawmakers as they ramp up discussions on the 2018 farm bill. The coalition’s white paper – Rural America’s Role in Expanding Energy Independence, Dominance, Innovation and Jobs: Recommendations for the New Farm Bill – urges Congress to support energy and rural manufacturing programs.
“Bipartisan farm bill energy programs have leveraged billions of dollars of private investment, spurred economic development, created jobs, provided new revenue streams for producers, and spawned technological innovation throughout rural America with a strong and growing return on investment,” said Lloyd Ritter, executive director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. “Past farm bills have recognized rural America’s potential to drive energy innovation and we urge Congress to support a strong 2018 farm bill that will continue U.S. commitment to these important programs.”
The Agriculture Energy Coalition advocates keeping the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program funding intact. The USDA program provides loan guarantees for up to $250 million. The coalition also asked for improved opportunities for multiple resources and technologies, including renewable chemicals.
Increased funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is recommended to better meet demand. The group hopes Congress will make the program more equitable for commercially proven but underserved technologies and more flexible to support ancillary activities like energy storage. The funds can currently be used for biomass, geothermal, hydropower, hydrogen, wind, solar and tidal energy generation, as well as energy efficiency improvements.
The AEC also wants increased funding to expand homegrown industrial biobased product development. As it relates to crop insurance, the report hopes the bill will direct USDA to more aggressively assess opportunities for non-food energy crops, so the U.S. can lead the world in next generation crops for energy and bioproducts.
“The USDA is creating a chicken and egg problem… if they both want to develop a crop insurance product to help farmers plant new energy crops and are also unwilling to develop products for crops that are not already planted widely,” the white paper reads.
The AEC recommends expansion of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to tackle the national challenge of wildfires, particularly in the Western U.S. They feel the program can be used as a "preventive medicine" approach to reduce hazardous fuel loads, ultimately saving tax money used to fight forest fires.
“Federal commitment to farm bill energy programs is vital, particularly right now, when so many new feedstocks, processes, fuels and technologies are on the cusp of successful commercialization and rural America needs economic opportunities. Federal support for core programs must be maintained,” AEC’s Ritter said.
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