Klobuchar: REAP likely to be retained in Farm Bill

By Kris Bevill | November 07, 2011

Details remain sparse as to which programs House and Senate agriculture committees will recommend to cut back or eliminate as part of the $23 billion in reductions they have proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill. Several senators told attendees at a conference held Nov. 7 in Fargo, N.D., to discuss the issues and challenges the upcoming Farm Bill that retaining funding for renewable energy programs is a vital piece of the overall policy.

The Energy Title of the current Farm Bill includes the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biobased Markets Program. In October, about 50 various renewable energy groups formed the Ag Energy Coalition to urge House and Senate committee members to retain funding for those programs over the course of the next five years.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who organized the conference along with Won Koo, director of the Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies at North Dakota State University, appears to agree with the coalition, telling conference attendees that the energy programs are something “we absolutely have to defend.”

Conrad is a member of the Senate agriculture committee but said he is still not sure which Farm Bill programs will be targeted for reductions because neither the House nor Senate committees have written a detailed plan. The committees were scheduled to submit a plan outlining the cuts to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on Nov. 1, but failed to meet that deadline. Conrad said Nov. 7 that Democrat and Republican members of the Senate committee were planning to meet separately that night to discuss details and said the Energy Title would be part of the discussion. The joint select committee is scheduled to unveil a 10-year deficit reduction plan, which will presumably include a detailed Farm Bill plan, to Congress on Nov. 23.

Fellow Senate ag committee member Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the coming week will be critical for committee members working to draft a detailed reduction plan. “I have heard that the REAP program will remain,” she said, quickly adding that the biofuels industry knows there will need to be funding cutbacks. Earlier this year, Klobuchar was one of a trio of senators who spearheaded a plan to end the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit in exchange for alternative fuels infrastructure funding and extended subsidies for small ethanol producers and cellulosic producers. The plan was enthusiastically backed by the ethanol industry, but the senators were unable to attach it to a bill for a vote.

Klobuchar said the failure to bring that proposal to a vote was “probably one of my most frustrating moments of a lot of them this year.” However, she indicated a willingness to continue her efforts to provide biofuels infrastructure funding. “They were willing to give up the rest of their subsidies … it certainly showed that biofuels is willing to come to the table and hopefully we’ll be able to work something out like this going forward,” she said.