Conrad-Lugar amendment would give energy programs $800M

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) plan to offer a bipartisan amendment to the proposed Senate farm bill that would provide mandatory funding for rural energy programs.

The amendment seeks to provide $800 million for the programs over five years, Conrad’s office said yesterday. It will likely be debated tomorrow at a markup on the farm bill, which Senate agriculture leaders released Friday afternoon (E&ENews PM, April 20).

“We think it’s an amendment that should have broad support in the committee. It’s very heartening to see the bipartisan cooperation in here,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which is working to get more sponsors aboard.

While Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) proposed leaving the energy programs in the farm bill, they failed to provide any mandatory funding. The Rural Energy for America Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, two of the programs in the energy title, would both be authorized at $20 million, but the final funding decision would lie in the hands of appropriators.

Supporters of the programs say that both are vital for growing domestic renewable energy. On Friday, they decried the lack of mandatory funding in the proposal.

“Without meaningful funding for these programs, progress in renewable energy projects that are creating good, permanent jobs in rural America would come to a halt,” Biotechnology Industry Organization Executive Vice President Brent Erikson said in a statement.

The measure from Conrad and Lugar enjoys support from Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Olsen said. Both Lugar and Harkin wrote the original energy title in the farm bill, which was added as part of the 2008 reauthorization.

Earlier this year, Harkin introduced legislation that would provide $1.275 billion in mandatory funding for rural energy programs over the next five years (E&E Daily, March 30).

Lugar has also maintained support for energy title programs, including them in farm bill legislation he introduced last year.

While Olsen applauded the amendment, he said he had hoped for a funding level similar to the Harkin bill “to get a commitment commensurate to the energy challenges we are facing.”

The National Farmers Union, which joined the Environmental Law and Policy Center in a Web-based seminar yesterday on the amendment, has also pledged its support.

“We see renewable energy as the future of American agriculture, where small and medium-sized farmers can diversify their revenue streams and actually get a more stable income,” NFU Government Relations Rep