Farm groups fight to protect renewable energy programs from budget hawks

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Washington, Dec. 2 - With farm programs on the budget chopping block even before the tea-party-tinged new Congress convenes next year, farm groups are defending their turf. Agriculture, energy, conservation and environmental interests wrote Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) Thursday to insist that renewable energy programs in the 2008 Farm Bill “must receive funding to the maximum extent possible.”

The letter from 19 organizations and companies states that “Now is not the time to downsize our energy security and economic independence goals. As Secretary Vilsack recently said in connection with the Administration's continuing effort to increase clean energy development, 'domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is a national imperative . . . we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21 century economy.'”

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The letter warns that since many clean energy projects supported by expiring farm bill programs are just beginning, “Shifting this funding now, just as advanced biofuels refineries and other clean energy development projects are taking root, would thwart our nation's economic and environmental goals and hurt rural economies.”

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union which signed the letter, commented further that “Many of the most exciting rural economic development projects in the past couple of decades have been based on renewable energy. Energy projects such as biodiesel, ethanol plants, and now wind energy have characterized rural economic development for many years.”

National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President Steve Robinson says that “As landowners and conservationists, we fully support the development and use of renewable fuels from agriculture and forestry products. Not only do renewable fuels support the environment and our national security, they also promote job growth and economic development in our rural communities.”

These 19 organizations signed the letter to Senators Inouye and Cochran: 25x'25 Alliance; American Coalition for Ethanol; American Forest Foundation; American Soybean Association; Biotechnology Industry Organization; Coskata, Inc; Environmental Law and Policy Center; Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc; Growth Energy; KL Energy; National Alliance of Forest Owners; National Association of Conservation Districts; National Association of State Foresters; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Biodiesel Board; National Corn Growers Association; National Farmers Union; National Sorghum Producers; and the Renewable Fuels Association.

One sign of the threat to continued support for renewable energy programs is that Democrats as well as Republicans are digging through lists of appropriated funds which have not yet been spent - in order to cancel the appropriations to use as offsets for their own favored programs. Renewable energy programs are one target because often funds may be appropriated for longer-term projects such as a biorefinery which may take years to build.

Another sign of trouble ahead is a bipartisan Nov. 30 letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and 15 colleagues charge that “Subsidizing blending ethanol into gasoline is fiscally indefensible.” The letter concludes that “Eliminating or reducing ethanol subsidies and trade barriers are important steps we can take to reduce the budget deficit, improve the environment, and lessen our reliance on imported oil.”

To read the Dec. 2 letter from the 19 farm groups, go to: http://agri-pulse.com/uploaded/Farm_Bill_Energy_2Dec10.pdf

To read the bipartisan Nov. 30 letter from 17 senators attacking subsidies for ethanol, go to: http://agri-pulse.com/uploaded/Feinstein_Kyl_re_Ethanol_30Nov10.pdf

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