Senate passes Farm Bill with energy programs intact
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in a 64-35 vote on June 21 after considering more than 70 amendments and completing the floor debate in a timely fashion not often experienced in Congress as of late. The bill offers a reason for biofuel stakeholders to celebrate, at least temporarily, as the Senate agreed to retain energy title programs and provide mandatory funding for those programs for the next five years as passed earlier this year in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s version of the bill.
Agriculture Energy Coalition released a statement applauding the Senate for reauthorizing energy title programs, which include the Renewable Energy for America Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and said their continued funding will continue to expand rural economies and create jobs. “These programs have been successful in supporting the growth of new renewable industries, creating markets for U.S. agriculture and saving energy,” the group said in its statement. “We urge members of the House, which is currently considering energy legislation, to quickly take up and pass the Farm Bill and its energy title.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the Senate’s Farm Bill provides the most significant reform to farm programs in decades. “This bill was developed through bipartisan collaboration, passed committee with broad bipartisan support, and we have now passed a bipartisan bill that supports 16 million American jobs,” she said in a statement. “It is heartening to earn support from both sides on a major bill that cuts spending and helps create jobs. Passage of this bill shows that when people come together, Congress can still get things done.”
The Senate approved the agriculture committee’s funding for energy programs for fiscal years 2013-2017 as follows:
- Biorefinery Assistance Program - $150 million annually
- Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels - $20 million per year
- Rural Energy for America Program - $20 million per year. Any funds remaining in the repealed Repowering Assistance Program will also be transferred to REAP.
- Biomass Research and Development Initiative - $30 million annually
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program - $20 million annually
The bill also includes reauthorization for biodiesel programs existing under the energy title.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and co-sponsored the amendment that restored energy title funding to the 2012 Farm Bill. A co-author of the two previous Farm Bills, Conrad praised his fellow senators for passing a fiscally responsible bill that reduces the deficit by $23 billion. He shared the responsibility for retaining energy title funding with committee member Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who co-sponsored the amendment. “We are spending almost a billion dollars every day importing foreign energy,” Conrad said in a statement. “We should instead be investing that money in developing new ways to produce energy right here at home.”
Farm Bill attention now turns to the House, which has yet to markup its version of the bill. A bipartisan group of representatives sent a letter to leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture to request that they retain energy program funding, but it is unclear whether the majority of committee members support those programs, or when the committee will produce its bill. Once the House committee has finished its mark-up session, the bill will be brought to the House floor for debate and then deliberated in conference committees before it can be passed into law. The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30.