Coalition urges Congress to support rural energy programs

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012

A coalition of 100 energy trade groups and conservationists today urged Congress to keep rural energy programs when their farm-bill funding expires later this year.

In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, the groups request strong mandatory funding for the programs, which include initiatives meant to boost the advanced biofuels industry and provide funding to rural landowners for energy efficiency.

“These programs are quite unique. They do not belong anywhere else than in the farm bill,” the groups wrote. “Moreover, no other Federal or state agency is properly suited to supplant the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in advancing these targeted opportunities for the agricultural and forestry sectors.”

The letter was addressed to Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Their committees are writing a measure to reauthorize the farm bill.

The groups say the programs have created “many tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs” and said the next five years will be crucial for them to achieve success.

“The American people have received a high return on investment from past energy title programs, and the Farm Bill has unlocked private capital for the nation’s first advanced biofuel biorefineries. … We have a responsibility to continue this progress toward energy security, and we must continue these programs,” said former Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Energy funding may be a tough sell on Capitol Hill, though. The agriculture committees will be grappling with how to cut billions of dollars in farm bill spending. In a farm bill proposal last fall, committee leaders made severe reductions to energy programs. Stabenow has repeatedly said she hopes that proposal will be used as a foundation for the bill being written this year.

BIO, American Coalition for Ethanol, Growth Energy, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Wildlife Federation and Renewable Fuels Association were among the groups that signed the letter.