Renewables groups form coalition to fight for Farm Bill program

By Kris Bevill | October 28, 2011

The House and Senate agriculture committees plan to deliver a legislative package to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on Nov. 1, outlining their suggestions to cut $23 billion from agriculture programs as part of the 2012 Farm Bill. In advance of the proposal, approximately 50 renewable energy groups have formed a coalition urging the committees to retain funding for energy programs in the new Farm Bill based on their proven track record of providing jobs and opportunities for agricultural producers in all states.

“Agriculture has an indispensible role to play in our nation’s emerging clean energy economy,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Ag Energy Coalition. “It is vital that we develop and commercialize a variety of clean, abundant, renewable energy resources and biobased products, and Farm Bill energy programs are crucial to achieving that goal. They also have the potential to be a game-changer for rural economies across the country, adding many thousands of jobs in the coming years. For these reasons, we are urging Congress to properly fund these programs through the life of the next Farm Bill.”

The Ag Energy Coalition is comprised of groups representing all aspects of renewable energy production, including biofuels, biomass power and thermal, wind, wood-based industries, and equipment manufacturers. In a letter sent to leaders of the ag committees and members of the joint select committee on Oct. 21, the group noted that the Energy Title programs included in the 2008 Farm Bill account for less than 1 percent of total outlays. “We recognize the significant budgetary constraints facing federal policymakers and the bold steps Congress is undertaking to address these challenges,” the group stated in the letter. “However … we urge you to ensure that the Energy Title is preserved and robust mandatory funding is provided for critically important programs.”

Programs housed within the 2008 Energy Title include the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biobased Markets Program. In its letter to Congressional leaders, the coalition stated that through the implementation of these programs by the USDA, thousands of renewable energy projects have been funded and energy efficiency has been improved at farms and businesses throughout rural areas of the country. The coalition also pointed out that the Farm Bill’s energy programs are over-prescribed and show no signs of abating.

Both ag committees include members who have traditionally shown strong support for renewable energy and biofuels programs, but it remains unclear whether they will maintain that support through negotiations on reductions to the upcoming Farm Bill. Paul Winters, director of communications at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a member of the Ag Energy Coalition, said the group has received little information as to what programs the ag committees will suggest for elimination and that the coalition is “eagerly awaiting” details on Nov. 1. In the meantime, members of the coalition are continuing to reach out to the committees, emphasizing the importance of retaining the Farm Bill’s Energy Title. While the coalition represents a diverse group of specialized interests, Winters said they will speak with one voice as to the importance of renewable energy. “That’s why the coalition was formed,” he said. “To unify our voice and say that the Energy Title as a whole and all the programs are important, rather than try to fight for individual programs.”