Harkin bill would reauthorize and fund imperiled rural energy programs

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 2, 2012

The senator who introduced the first energy title to the nation’s agriculture policy in 2002 unveiled legislation yesterday that attempts to rescue those programs by making their funding mandatory.

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin’s bill would provide $1.275 billion in mandatory funding for rural energy programs over the next five years. The programs currently have no funding baseline after the 2008 farm bill expires in September.

“Now, as we are formulating the next farm bill,” Harkin said in a statement emailed to E&E Daily, “it is even more critical that we include strong programs that encourage production and use of biomass feedstocks for advanced biofuels and biomaterials, as well as assisting farmers and ranchers with adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to replace their aging energy systems.”

Specifically, the proposed legislation would reauthorize biomass initiatives and the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which provides funding to firms developing commercial-scale advanced biofuel plants.

It would also reauthorize the Rural Energy for America Program, the farm bill’s most popular energy program, that helps rural landowners make energy efficiency improvements, install renewable energy and build up ethanol infrastructure.

The bill is co-sponsored by Democrats Kent Conrad (N.D.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Al Franken (Minn.).

Last week, Harkin and Franken introduced S. 2225, which would also reauthorize REAP and streamline some of its provisions.

Backers of the energy programs praised the latest Harkin bill.

“The farm bill’s energy title is a tremendous economic driver for communities throughout rural America, funding renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in every state of the Union,” said Ryan Stroschein, a director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition, a coalition of biofuel and renewable-power groups launched in July.