The Senate’s overwhelming adoption of a new five-year farm bill earlier this week is a major step toward providing U.S. ag producers with the certainty needed to succeed in a high-risk enterprise. Especially welcome is the inclusion in the Senate measure of an energy title that budgets $900 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy initiatives, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Bioenergy Assistance Program.
So now, farmers, ranchers and forestland owners are turning their attention to the House where debate on a significantly different version of a farm bill will go to the floor for debate next week. Of concern to renewable energy stakeholders is the House bill’s failure to provide any mandatory funding for farm energy programs, some going back in origin to the 2002 Farm Bill.
Nonetheless, the fact that the House is taking up farm legislation has to be seen as a positive. Last year, in the previous Congress, the situation was very similar to what it is now: The Senate passed a bill and the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of five-year farm legislation. But House leadership declined to bring the bill to the floor last year, resulting in a one year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, expiring Sept. 30.
However, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week he is prepared to vote on a new farm bill, signaling a readiness by the leadership in the lower chamber to see the process through and enable the adoption of farm and nutrition policy through 2017.
In a time of fiscal austerity, virtually no one disagrees with the notion that federal money must be spent wisely, with an eye towards meeting basic needs. But it is also critical that the federal government continue to invest in programs that offer big returns. Programs that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency offer a boost to the economy, particularly in rural areas, through the generation of new jobs.
Programs that accelerate the production of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels, assure a continuation of the downward trend this country is experiencing in the import of foreign oil. The generation of sustainably produced power, like that extracted through anaerobic digesters on U.S. dairy farms, helps improve the environment.
The Senate Agriculture Committee and, by extension, the 66 members of the Senate who approved a farm bill this week, made the tough decision, understanding there are economic benefits created by farm energy programs that promote the production of new biofuel feedstocks and help farmers make their operations more efficient.
The House has an opportunity to further the nation on its path to a clean energy future, while giving agricultural producers and rural communities the additional economic opportunities they deserve. An amendment is likely to be offered in the House that would make a significant portion of the money marked for farm energy programs mandatory, giving these programs real strength. Lawmakers are urged to accept this amendment and continue the prosperity offered by renewable energy in rural America.