Senate vs. House set to battle over farm energy, EERE programs

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The Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday a spending plan for fiscal 2012 beginning October 1 that cuts $141 million from agricultural spending compared to this fiscal year. But the amount adopted for farm spending is $2.7 billion more than the levels approved by the House, setting up some head-to-head conflicts over a number of specific programs, including farm energy initiatives created by the 2008 Farm Bill.

The Senate panel approved $34 million in mandatory spending for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and $4.5 million in discretionary spending, The House spending plan for REAP virtually eliminated it, leaving only a couple of million dollars that barely keeps the program on life support. The Senate Appropriations measure approved by the panel this week would cap the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) at $248 million; the House zeroed the program out under that bill. Nonetheless, the Senate panel capped the Biorefinery Assistance Program at $75 million, while the full House approved $150 million in discretionary funding.

The Senate panel did cut farm bill conservation funding by some $726 million compared to 2011, not as steep as the nearly $1 billion in proposed cuts called for by the House earlier this year, but significant, given that 2011 spending for conservation had already been slashed by $500 million in the fiscal 2011 spending measure adopted by Congress in April. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which subsidizes farm improvements that, among other efforts, can convert manure to energy, would be cut by 20 percent, to $1.4 billion. The Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers for changing agricultural practices that could include growing bioenergy crops, would get cut only 4 percent under the Senate version, compared to 25 percent under the House bill.

The Senate Committee declined to adopt any of the policy “riders” attached by House members to their fiscal 2012 spending plan, including an amendment that would prohibit the USDA from implementing new regulations on climate change adaptation. Critics of the amendment say the ban puts the nation at increased risk of food disruptions, forest fires and huge economic losses. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who introduced the amendment, said USDA’s climate adaptation policy was a “backdoor attempt to put a cap-and-trade program in place in the Department of Agriculture.”

The DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program would receive $1.796 billion under the Senate committee’s proposal, the same as fiscal year 2011, to advance solar, biomass, and vehicle technologies. The House version cut $491 million, or 27 percent, from the current fiscal year level, which already represents a cut of 18 percent from the 2010 fiscal year. The DOE Biomass Program, which is administered by EERE and supports research, development, and demonstration projects on advanced biofuels and biopower, would be cut by $33 million, or 18 percent, below the current level, under the House bill.

Source: 25x’25 Weekly REsource

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