Senate rejects handful of anti-biofuels Farm Bill amendments

By Kris Bevill | June 21, 2012

As the U.S. Senate nears completion on its version of the 2012 Farm Bill, several amendments have been defeated that, if passed, would have damaged the USDA’s ability to assist the biofuels industry.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., introduced an amendment which would prohibit the Secretary of Agriculture from making loan guarantees. During his two-minute floor statement to introduce the amendment, DeMint suggested that failed solar company Solyndra, which received a U.S. DOE loan guarantee, served as reason to prohibit any future federal loan guarantees. “There are many programs that guarantee loans that expose the American taxpayers to millions of dollars,” he said. “This bill would prohibit those guarantees—not prohibit the programs themselves and the crop insurance and things farmers count on but just the liability we put on the American taxpayers.” The Senate voted 14-84 to defeat his amendment.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., offered an amendment which would repeal the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which exists under the Energy Title of the Farm Bill and provides incentives for the construction and development of next-generation biorefineries. The Senate voted 33-63 to defeat his amendment. Growth Energy commended the Senate’s action and said it demonstrates that a majority of senators recognize biofuels’ role in the agricultural and energy industries. “The Biorefinery Assistance Program is instrumental in the production of the next generation of ethanol,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said in a statement. “By rejecting this amendment, the Senate has clearly shown they understand the importance of advanced biofuels and the benefits of cleaner air, job creation and energy security.”

An amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would have cut funding for the Market Access Program by 20 percent and imposed limitations on which international marketing activities could utilize program funding. The cut would have negatively impacted international distillers grains marketing, according to the U.S. Grains Council. “MAP funding in conjunction with other smaller funding programs has been an important contributor to the success of U.S. coarse grains and DDGS [distillers dried grains with solubles] exports worldwide,” Wendell Shauman, USGC chairman, said in a statement. “Without MAP funding, U.S. grains exports will face a much tougher uphill battle. The Senate rejected Coburn’s amendment in a 30-69 vote.

Senators filed hundreds of amendments to the 2012 Farm Bill. Of those, about 70 were being brought to the floor for debate. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said in a July 20 media call that the Senate was moving through those amendments in “record time” and she was optimistic that the Farm Bill debate would conclude by Thursday, June 21. “It’s critically important we get it through the Senate and be able to then work with our House colleagues, who I know are intent on marking up their bill in committee, and then moving it to the House floor so we can complete the process,” she said.