Once again, renewable energy stakeholders and advocates brace themselves as Congress begins its annual process of considering and amending appropriation bills that fund the operations of government.
Of particular concern are indications that appropriators on Capitol Hill want to scale back the level of mandatory funding for Farm Bill energy programs established when the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the last five-year farm bill) was adopted early last year.
Agriculture and clean energy advocacy groups have been reaching out to the members of congressional appropriations committees, calling on them to not only maintain all mandatory funding for USDA’s energy programs as authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, but also to provide strong discretionary funding for the programs in fiscal 2016.
A markup of the agricultural appropriations bills for next year have yet to be scheduled, but are expected shortly.
The 2014 Farm Bill, which was constructed and adopted with strong bipartisan participation and support, reaffirms the importance of the USDA energy programs. These initiatives, which have been in play for more than a decade, serve a critical role in improving energy systems in the agricultural sector and expanding rural America’s energy and materials contributions to the national energy economy, not to mention creating jobs for rural communities.
Yet some lawmakers may propose further cutting funding for the farm bill energy programs, which have already seen mandatory spending cuts of nearly 50 percent per year since the 2008 Farm Bill.
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides significant incentives for farmers, livestock producers and rural small businesses to make energy efficiency improvements, and to purchase or install renewable energy systems. REAP also generates much-needed job and economic benefits in every state, serves all agricultural sectors, and leverages private investment at a cost-sharing rate of more than three-to-one. Still, the 2014 Farm Bill dropped mandatory funding for REAP by 22 percent compared to what was provided in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Others that were cut for FY2015 include the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which provides financial incentives for the development of commercial-scale advanced biorefineries. It’s a program that helps reduce investor risk for emerging technologies and, like REAP, supports good-paying jobs. By providing grants and loan guarantees to producers of advanced biofuels, bio-based products and renewable chemicals, the program is critical to diversifying feedstocks and opening new markets for agricultural products.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) was cut in 2015 and is also under threat in fiscal 2016. It provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and private forestland who are working to establish and produce sustainable, non-food biomass feedstocks for delivery to advanced biorefineries.
Unfortunately, cuts to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs are not just looming on the farm bill front. Clean energy advocates are alarmed by a water and energy development spending bill passed by the House earlier this month that includes a $34-million hike for fossil fuel programs, but cuts funding for renewable energy and efficiency programs by $279 million compared to current spending levels. President Obama says he will veto the bill as written, but that did not stop the Senate Appropriations Committee from adopting a similar measure last week and sending it to the Senate floor.
25x’25 strongly urges stakeholders to let the lawmakers know that these farm bill and DOE programs should receive priority consideration within an appropriations bill that can remain fiscally responsible. They are important to securing the contribution that agriculture and rural America can and should make to our national energy strategy. The programs represent a modest investment that can produce a huge economic and technological return. They must be preserved.