Farm bill contains no mandatory funding for energy title programs

By Holly Jessen | January 02, 2013

The good news is that legislators came through at the 11th hour and passed the “fiscal cliff bill,” which extended the farm bill through Sept. 30 and several biofuel-related tax incentives through 2013.The bad news is, all mandatory funding for energy title programs were stripped from the farm bill at the last moment. “The programs have lived, but they don’t have money,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. “Unless the appropriators decide to fund them and that’s a tough battle given the appropriations situation.”

Growth Energy released a statement that commended members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Still, CEO Tom Buis said that, while the biofuel tax extensions were needed, longer-term solutions were imperative. He also said that removing mandatory funding for energy programs effectively killed funding to ethanol infrastructure development through Rural Energy for America Program and second-generation feedstock development through Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Biorefinery Assistance Program. “As the 113th Congress convenes this Thursday, I urge them to revisit these provisions and act to provide the stability and funding necessary to ensure robust growth and continued success for the renewable fuels industry moving forward,” he said in a prepared statement.

Other biofuel and biomass related energy programs include the Biomass Research and Development program, the Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative, the Feedstock Flexibility Program for Bioenergy Producers and the Forest Biomass for Energy and Community Wood Energy Program.

Ritter called it highly unfortunate that mandatory funding for energy title programs was removed from the bill. The changes happened at the last minute, and it differed from the agreement that had been hammered out by the ag committees in the House and Senate. “The ag committees had a bipartisan, bicameral approach that we thought was a pretty good solution,” he told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “It had a reasonable amount of mandatory funding for core energy title programs.”

The changes were negotiated by minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We really had a good package together for agriculture and ag energy and we lost the energy piece and some other pieces,” Ritter said. “Funding was stripped from a variety of different sections, not just energy, and there were quite a few changes in the overall bill.”  

The Agriculture Energy Coalition will be working hard in the next nine months to restore funding to the vitally important energy title programs, which provide for job creation and economic growth in rural America. Having no mandatory funding hurts biofuels, particularly next-generation biofuels, Ritter said, specifically mentioning BCAP, REAP and the Biorefinery Assistance Program. “We’ve lost a major component, at least temporarily, to help continue to build out the domestic biofuels industry.”

The National Corn Growers Association released a statement, saying it hoped the 113th Congress would be more fruitful and that petty partisanship could be put aside. “America’s farmers have clearly made known the importance and need of a new farm bill in 2012,” said NCGA President Pam Johnson. “Once again Congress’ failure to act pushes agriculture aside hampering farmers’ ability to make sound business decisions for the next five years. The National Corn Growers Association is tired of the endless excuses and lack of accountability. The system is clearly broken.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement that he had mixed feelings. He said he was pleased needed middle class tax relief and continued unemployment insurance was part of the bill and relieved that the agreement prevents a price spike in dairy and other commodities. At the same time he said he was disappointed that a multi-year reauthorization of the farm bill was not passed. “I will continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a reauthorized bill that includes a strong and defensible safety net for producers, expanded rural economic opportunity in the new bio-based economy, significant support for conserving our natural resources, increased commitment to important research, and support for safe and nutritious food for all Americans,” he said. “I look forward to continuing the effort to get this critical work done.”