Senate ag committee votes to restore energy funding in Farm Bill

By Kris Bevill | April 27, 2012

The Senate Agriculture Committee marked up the 2012 Farm Bill on April 26 and approved a new version by a vote of 16 to 5 that includes an amendment introduced by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., to restore funding for the Farm Bill’s energy title programs. Nine other committee members signed on to co-sponsor the Conrad-Lugar proposal, which provides $800 million to fund core energy programs through fiscal year 2017.

The Ag Energy Coalition, a diverse group of energy and bioproducts stakeholders focused solely on retaining energy program funding in the new Farm Bill, thanked the committee for making progress in that area and called the Conrad-Lugar amendment a “big win” for farmers, rural businesses and all proponents of clean energy. “There is no question these initiatives will continue to pay off, through new jobs and businesses, increased private capital investment and reduced energy costs,” the group said in a statement. The Advanced Ethanol Council echoed the ag coalition’s sentiment, adding that the Farm Bill programs are an important step toward providing continuity for advanced biofuel producers.

The Conrad-Lugar amendment calls for $800 million to be spread throughout several programs over the five-year life of the Farm Bill. Among the included programs: the Rural Energy for America Program, a program that offers grants and loans for a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, including blender pumps; the Biomass Research & Development Initiative, which funds R&D activities related to next-generation feedstocks and new uses of biomass for fuels; the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which provides incentives for the construction and development of next-generation biorefineries; and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, an initiative focused on establishing and maintaining significant quantities of energy crops.

The Ag Energy Coalition and the National 25x’25 Alliance cautioned that while the restoration of Energy Title funding by the Senate committee is positive, the bill is far from passage. The Senate floor needs to approve the bill and the House is also formulating a Farm Bill which will likely differ from the Senate version. Both groups encouraged renewable energy supporters to continue encouraging Congressional representatives to support energy program funding.

Without reauthorization in the 2012 Farm Bill, Energy Title programs will expire on Sept. 30.