House bill gives stalled farm program new life
Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter
A rural energy program that has been largely stalled on Congress’ failure to pass a five-year farm bill would be given new life under legislation being offered by a pair of Democratic lawmakers.
The bill introduced Tuesday by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) would authorize hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on the Rural Energy for America Program for the next four fiscal years, as well as remove provisions that have discouraged smaller producers from enrolling.
Through the Rural Energy for America Program, the Department of Agriculture provides funding to farmers and ranchers for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy projects, such as installing wind turbines and solar panels. It is the farm bill’s largest energy program.
“REAP has benefited every state in the nation, and with this bill, REAP can continue driving rural development and helping communities develop clean and reliable local power,” said Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Under H.R. 1273, the REAP program would receive $70 million a year in mandatory funding for each fiscal year between 2014 and 2018, as well as be authorized to receive up to $100 million in discretionary funds during each of those years.
Like the farm bill’s other energy programs, REAP has been in limbo since the beginning of the year, when lawmakers passed only a partial extension as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal. The extension reauthorized the bill’s energy programs but cut all of their mandatory funding, effectively putting new enrollments on hold (Greenwire, Jan. 9).
It is unclear whether Congress will pass a new comprehensive farm bill this year or whether it will punt it again to next year.
Along with providing funding, the Welch-Walz bill would make a few changes to the program to make enrollment easier. It would eliminate a USDA policy of requiring farmers and project owners to install a second electric meter on their property or certify their electricity use, a policy meant to ensure that program funds are not going toward residential use.
The cost of that provision has discouraged farmers from participating, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which has pushed for several years to eliminate the requirement.
The REAP bill also would create a tiered proposal system, making it easier for small farmers competing against large agribusinesses to apply and receive funding, according to a spokesman for Walz’s office. It also would provide more funding toward projects that have “natural resource conservation benefits” beyond energy efficiency.
In a statement yesterday, Welch promoted the bill as a means to boost Vermont’s maple syrup industry. REAP grants have helped producers install reverse osmosis systems that remove water from sap before it is converted to syrup, a process that Welch said reduces the energy consumed in syrup production.
Also yesterday, Welch introduced a measure that would authorize USDA to provide grants for maple research and the marketing of syrup and other maple products.
Available at: http://www.eenews.net/EEDaily/2013/03/21/archive/8