Op-ed: Congress Must Reject White House Budget Plan, Support Rural America

Source: By Ernie Shea, 25x25 • Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017

The 25x’25 Alliance joined multiple other energy, farm and rural America advocacy groups Tuesday in expressing our extreme disappointment with President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018.

The spending plan proposed by the White House, however, does not come as a surprise, given that it adds details to the “skinny’ budget outline issued by the administration in March. The budget plan issued this week maintains the same draconian cuts hinted at in the earlier version, which would eliminate programs and services that benefit rural America. Among those programs facing severe cuts are those that promote the production of clean energy from our farms, ranches and forestlands.

USDA would see funding slashed by $38 billion over the next 10 years, cutting farm, crop insurance and conservation programs, as well as cut out funding for the most effective programs of the Farm Bill Energy Title. Additionally, for several of these programs, the budget would eliminate funding that had been carried forward from previous years, which means it would not only cut future annual funding, but also take away residual funds.

The centerpiece of the Energy Title is the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). Since its inception, REAP has supported more than 15,000 energy-saving and clean energy-producing projects in rural areas across the country. The 2014 Farm Bill provided mandatory funding of $50 million per year. The Trump budget would eliminate all of that funding, and also remove $8 million that is carried over from previous years, essentially killing REAP. Additionally, the Trump budget would claw back the $175 million in funding accumulated by the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. Furthermore, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) would get the same treatment as it has in previous years – capped at $3 million per year – well below the $25 million called for in the 2014 Farm Bill.

In addition to gutting USDA’s Energy Title programs, the president is also proposing major reductions and radical changes to USDA’s Rural Development mission area. That includes the Rural Utility Service, which supports 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives that provide service to 42 million people in 47 states. Collectively electric cooperatives provide services in 327 of the nation’s 353 “persistent poverty counties” (93 percent). Of the 42 million Americans served by cooperatives, an estimated 4 million live in persistent poverty counties. The cuts proposed by the president will harm the very people he pledged to help on the campaign trail.

The budget proposal says USDA conservation programs will be “streamlined.” These programs include those like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which offers opportunities to develop and grow bioenergy crops like switchgrass, as well as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps livestock producers build anaerobic digesters to dispose of waste and generate electricity. The “streamlining” would likely mean these programs will lose well more than $5.7 billion over the next decade.

USDA research, which includes the department’s work in developing agricultural solutions to changing climatic conditions and assessing means by which ag producers can adapt to volatile weather, would see a drop from $3.2 billion in 2016 to $2.5 billion in 2018. The White House plan would close down 17 of the agency’s 90 Agricultural Research Service facilities. Meanwhile, the proposal would cut discretionary funding for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service from more than $1 billion in 2016 to $766 million in 2018.

Elsewhere, DOE’s funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would be cut 69 percent under the White House budget plan for next year alone. The drop from $2 billion to $636 million is the largest of many cuts proposed, and is just one of a variety of energy program offices facing reductions. Research and development in bioenergy programs would be cut by $168 million, or more than 74 percent. In fact, DOE’s Office of Science would lose nearly a fifth of its $5 billion budget, putting the brakes on critical work and costing jobs at DOE’s 17 national laboratories. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which has had vast success in driving new energy technologies that would otherwise have been too risky for the private sector to undertake, would be eliminated by 2019, retaining only small residual budget in the interim.

Energy efficiency programs would be eliminated. Weatherization initiatives that provide insulation and storm windows to protects homes from precipitation and wind, resulting in considerable energy savings, would be gone. EPA’s Energy Star program, which certifies a wide variety of products – from appliances to buildings – as highly efficient, would be eradicated, despite administration costs of only about $50 million, yet producing more than $34 billion in energy savings costs for consumers each year.

It borders on the ironic that the Trump budget document says it aims to “increase development of America’s energy resources, strengthening our national security [and] lowering the price of electricity and transportation fuels,” when it virtually attempts to eliminate the promotion of clean, renewable energy development that helps create jobs and boosts local economies, all while enhancing our energy security.

However, it is important to remember that members of Congress have made very clear that the president’s proposal is just that – a suggested line of spending. 25x’25 calls on partners and renewable energy stakeholders to urge congressional budget writers to reject the Trump plan and develop a fiscal 2018 budget that supports efforts to shore up our small towns and farming communities, where the rural economy has fallen by half over the past four years. 25x’25 stands ready to work with lawmakers to develop a spending plan for the next fiscal year that provides solutions to the challenges facing America.