USDA

The Daily Yonder: ELPC’s Olsen Hopes Paris Accord Pullout Doesn’t Hamper Successful Rural Clean Energy Projects

The Daily Yonder

USDA Climate Change Approach Faces Diminished Role, Worrying Many AG Leaders 

 June 6, 2017

By Bryce Oates

As the President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords and outlines budget priorities, critics worry about a directional shift with USDA Climate Change.

President Trump announced that the U. S. would “pull out” of the Paris Climate Accords last week, signaling a clear direction for his Administration’s approach to the challenge of a changing, more energy-charged climate.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the move, stating, “President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.”

The news does not please some members of the agricultural community, who believe that USDA should be a partner and supporter of efforts to assist farmers in addressing climate change.

“The withdrawal continues a troubling trend,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The young farmers we represent, to see their President speak about climate change this way, to walk away from progress we’re making on climate resiliency, progress farmers are making to cut emissions and develop on-the-ground solutions, it’s demoralizing. It’s just incredibly discouraging.”

NYFC’s members have already moved on in the discussion about climate change as a reality according to Bahrenburg. They see the evidence every day, with hotter summers, warmer winters, more intense droughts, more intense floods. Their project, Conservation Generation, seeks to assist farmers in the arid West with tools and resources to remain viable in a water-constrained environment.

“While we remain committed to working with Secretary Perdue, he has defended proposed cuts to key conservation programs, cuts to scientific research, a 30% reduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,” said Bahrenburg. He said that a group of young farmers are traveling to Washington, DC, this week to discuss their opinion with policymakers.

“All of these actions, the budget proposal, walking away from the global community, leaving the Paris Accords, taken together form a real indication of where USDA is headed,” said Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Farmers Union. “It’s a scary proposition.”

Driscoll said that many NFU members utilize the climate research and data presented by the Climate Hubs, originating in the Obama Administration. And NFU member families often participate in USDA’s REAP Program, both as farmers and workers for solar companies utilizing REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program) grants. REAP funding, which support renewable energy projects in rural communities, was singled out to be eliminated in the Trump Agriculture budget.

“This is a very, very sensitive time for farmers. There’s a credit crisis upon us. Prices and farm income are low. Choking off programs that deliver cost savings for farmers, that help them to become clean energy producers, undermining the information and tools that help farmers stay in business, it’s just irresponsible for them to behave this way.”

“The Administration’s proposal to eliminate farm bill funding for REAP is not only short-sighted from a climate change adaptation and mitigation perspective, it is also completely counter to their budget narrative,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in an email to Daily Yonder.

“We’ve heard a lot about agriculture needing to ‘do more with less,” and that is exactly what REAP does. This program puts farmers in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their energy usage and costs, and helping them to reduce both. In a time when the agricultural economy is in downturn, that kind of independence and control is more important than ever,” said Fogel.

Others have also applauded previous USDA actions related to climate change and energy programs. “We have a program here that helps establish energy projects in rural Wisconsin dairies, for poultry farms of the Southeast, for cattle producers all over America. REAP serves every state, every agricultural sector, and has strong bipartisan support. We hope it continues,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Olsen said that he sees rural projects and programs working to create jobs and cut carbon emissions across the board, particularly due to USDA participation and focus. “Programs that cut energy costs for farmers, that increase local energy production through solar and wind, that increase economic investment and activity, that increase jobs in rural America, what’s not to like about that,” asked Olsen, questioning the Trump Administration’s budget priorities.

When presented with these questions about the Trump USDA’s approach to climate change, a USDA spokesperson told the Daily Yonder through email:

“The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it may have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

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Public News Service: ELPC’s Rob Kelter says wind and solar play important role in Ohio’s clean-energy future

Public News ServiceReport: Solar and Wind Good Business for Ohio Companies
November 30, 2016
By Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As Ohio lawmakers debate the future of the freeze on the state’s clean-energy standards, a new report highlights how strong clean-energy policies can boost the economic growth of wind and solar energy. According to research released today by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, with more than 300 solar and wind supply-chain businesses, the Buckeye State is primed to become a major renewable-energy hub.

Senior attorney at the center Robert Kelter said the state’s established manufacturing base and trained workforce are a big part of the reason.

“Ohio has a really strong workforce of people in the manufacturing sector, and those people are perfect for the kinds of jobs that are needed to supply the wind and solar industries,” he explained.

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E&E: Rural energy efforts run low on fuel as farm bill expires

Chuck Bushman Farm flipped the switch earlier this year on 360 solar panels spread across its chicken barn in Castalia, Iowa.

Each panel is capable of generating 240 kilowatts of power for the supplier of organic milk and chickens. Some days, the solar panels are able to produce more power than what is needed, and the farm banks it for when the demand for electricity exceeds what the panels provide. The farm also has smart meters for the chicken coop and the rest of its buildings to monitor where electricity demand is highest.

The Department of Agriculture provided the funding for the project through its Rural Energy for America Program, whose mission is to help farmers and ranchers install renewable energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. Since its creation in 2002, the program has given rural landowners grants and loans for about 7,000 projects in all 50 states.

But USDA’s ability to carry out projects like the installation of solar panels was left to dangle last night with the expiration of the farm bill. Without a new bill that includes mandatory funding, conservationists warn, REAP and other programs will run out of fuel and USDA won’t meet rural landowners’ demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“There’s a great degree of uncertainty around the program, and word is getting out that funds are getting cut, but USDA still had demand in excess of what the funding would supply,” Andy Olsen, a senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said late last week. “What we really need is for Congress to pass a new farm bill.”

After months of wrangling, mostly on the House side, the sun set on the farm bill at midnight with little fanfare, dwarfed by the larger government shutdown.

This is the second time in two years that Congress has allowed the farm bill to expire. Last year, U.S. farm policy lapsed for three months before Congress early this year tacked a nine-month farm bill extension into larger legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

Last year’s farm bill expiration was unprecedented in U.S. farm policy history, but this year’s had been long expected as the House has proposed cuts to the bill’s food stamps program. The farm bill’s expiration, though, has been downplayed by senior agriculture leaders in Congress because funding and authorities for major commodity subsidies and food stamps will not begin to expire until the beginning of next year (E&E Daily, Sept. 20).

But several of the bill’s smaller programs — such as those in the energy, conservation, organic and trade-promotion sections — are facing uncertainty at best and shutdowns at worst as of last night’s expiration. For energy programs, it’s a question of funding.

USDA operates seven energy programs, including one that provides loans to biorefinery producers to commercialize the next generations of fuels made from agricultural residues, perennial grasses, municipal solid waste and algae.

Most share a foxhole with REAP, which the department also uses to install pumps at gas stations capable of dispersing higher blends of ethanol.

While they retained their authorizations to operate when the farm bill expired at midnight, the programs are left with a dwindling supply of carryover dollars and no certainty that funding will be available in the future. Planning for future projects will likely become more complicated the longer the nation is without a new bill.

“This year in a couple of the programs we had some carryover mandatory dollars that we were able to utilize. But those opportunities are just about gone,” said Doug O’Brien, USDA’s acting undersecretary of rural development, in an interview last week. “We’re running out of that fuel that is moving these renewable energy programs.”

Rural advocates say the programs are already on life support because of both uncertainty over the farm bill and diminished dollars from congressional appropriators — discretionary funding for REAP this year totaled about $3 million, compared with the $25 million that the farm bill had authorized for each of the past four years.

A year ago, all of the farm bill’s energy programs were among 37 “stranded” programs that did not have an authorization beyond fiscal 2012. While they were reauthorized in the farm bill extension, none of the programs was provided with any mandatory funding.

The 2008 farm bill provided for a total of $255 million in mandatory funds for REAP and $320 million for the Agriculture Department to offer to biofuels producers as part of its Biorefinery Assistance Program.

In the absence of fresh cash, USDA is using carryover mandatory funding from the 2008 farm bill to enroll new participants in the programs, according to the agriculture official. Though the department expected to be able to exceed $35 million this year in grants through the Rural Energy for America Program, energy program accounts are just about tapped out.

O’Brien, whose office administers the programs, said the department is doing its best to work with the funding it’s been given.

“As folks who work in the department, we certainly are cognizant and concerned about what happens about policy in the future,” O’Brien said, “but at the end of the day, we have — and have had — great tools and we’ve just been focused on making sure we’re implementing those in the best way possible.”

The farm bill’s expiration won’t affect ongoing projects but instead hampers the department’s ability to sign up new farmers and ranchers.

“Without the new mandatory funding or appropriated dollars, which is highly unlikely in the short term, they’re essentially not going to run those programs. They’ll remain dormant to nonexistent,” said Lloyd Ritter, co-chairman of the Agriculture Energy Coalition who has worked on four farm bills.

The Obama administration and rural energy advocates are pushing for a farm bill conference committee to include the Senate version of the farm bill’s energy title, which would provide $900 million in mandatory funding for programs. REAP would receive about $48 million a year for the five-year bill’s duration, while the Biorefinery Assistance Program would receive $100 million this fiscal year and $58 million in fiscal 2014 and 2015.

The House version authorizes $1.4 billion in discretionary funding for energy programs but does not provide any mandatory funding.

Stakeholders are simply looking for a clear signal from Congress, Ritter said.

“It’s a very poor way of doing business in the federal government,” he said. “It’s just inappropriate to have programs exist and not exist and exist again. … I don’t think there’s any question it’s turning people away.”

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