Next Farm Bill energy title remains in limbo

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The status of energy programs in any new farm bill under construction by congressional ag leaders this week remains unknown, despite pleas from a number of renewable energy groups to save the programs and bolster their funding. A coalition of 46 organizations, including 25x’25, sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members from both the Senate and House agriculture committees citing the economic, energy security and jobs benefits of the programs.

The ag leaders promised the Joint Special Committee on Deficit Reduction to deliver a spending plan by Nov. 1 that pares some $23 billion off of USDA expenditures over the next 10 years. Members of the Joint Reduction panel were copied on the renewable energy stakeholders’ letter urging support and funding for 2008 Farm Bill initiatives such as The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biobased Markets Program, among several others.

There are some reports from Capitol Hill suggesting the energy title will be eliminated to help meet the budget cuts required under the ad hoc farm bill under construction. But other renewable energy advocates are adamant that the detailed farm spending proposal due next week will keep those energy programs.

“There is just no way [Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI] will send a farm bill to the joint reduction committee without those energy programs,” said a policy analyst who covers Congress for a Washington-based environmental group. The analyst said she had received assurances Tuesday from the Senate Agriculture Committee’s majority counsel’s office that the energy programs would survive through this formative round.

Another green energy group analyst said that based on visits with Agriculture Committee members in recent weeks, “I would be a little surprised if the title was dropped. Lots of support has been expressed for BCAP, REAP and other programs from both sides of the aisle   especially at the leadership level.”

Still, the veteran analyst cautions, “expressed support may be one thing; making difficult political choices under pressure of time may be another. The energy title is on everyone’s list, but it is probably at the top of no one’s list.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Coburn, D-Okla., has targeted REAP for elimination under a fiscal 2012 appropriations bill headed to the Senate floor next week. Coburn cited REAP as “one of the many biofuels programs operated by the (USDA) Rural Development agency,” claiming it is “redundant” among similar programs run by the DOE and EPA.

USDA says REAP provides funding, through loans and grants, for farming and ranching operations and rural businesses to purchase and install renewable energy generating systems, including biofuel production facilities and digesters that convert methane from dairy operations into electricity. The program also funds energy efficiency improvements.

Source: 25x’25 Weekly Resource

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