Midwest senators step up in bipartisan effort to protect farmers’ interests in vital energy programs

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill) by a vote of 20 to 1. The Senate Farm Bill continues important energy title programs, including funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The committee voted to include an amendment to strengthen energy programs with mandatory funding.

Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:

“Thank you to the Senators of the Agriculture Committee for continuing REAP with essential mandatory funding. REAP has made a tremendous difference across agricultural sectors and for rural small businesses, bringing a broad range of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency investments.”

Ann Mesnikoff, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director added “The Senate Farm Bill’s continuation of REAP and the energy title with mandatory funding stands in stark contrast to the failed House bill that eviscerated both the energy title and mandatory funding for REAP and other programs.” The House version of the Farm Bill was defeated by a margin of 198-213 on May 18th.

The committee adopted a bipartisan amendment to restore mandatory funding for programs within the energy title consistent with the 2014 Farm Bill. The bipartisan amendment was led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) with senators from across the Midwest, including Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

“Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich. and Ranking Member of the committee) deserves great credit for being a champion of the Rural Energy for America Program,” Olsen added. “Her efforts have advanced a program that helps grow America’s farm energy potential and brings benefits to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses across the country.”

 

House Overwhelmingly Rejects Amendment to Repeal REAP, Energy Title

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Washington, D.C. – During consideration of the Farm Bill (The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018), the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected an amendment from Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) to repeal the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and other Farm Bill Energy Title initiatives by a stunning 82%. The vote was 340 to 74.

In response, Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:
“The bipartisan House vote preserving the Energy Title sends a strong message that attempts to cut farm energy efforts should cease. Congress should step up and increase funding for effective farm energy initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program. REAP serves all agricultural sectors and has benefited farmers throughout the Midwest and across the country.”  (more…)

ELPC Statement on the House Farm Bill’s Gutting of the Energy Title

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

STATEMENT FROM ANDY OLSEN, SENIOR POLICY ADVOCATE and ANN MESNIKOFF, FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

The Farm Bill proposal released today by Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee wholly eliminates reliable mandatory funding for programs in the Energy Title. The bill draft also would eliminate mandatory funding for the popular Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Below is ELPC’s statement on the proposal”

“The House Farm Bill fails to continue mandatory funding for the REAP program that delivers benefits for farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate at ELPC. “Congress should reject this proposal and work on a Farm Bill that reflects the vast support across the country for accelerating renewable energy and energy efficiency on farms and in rural communities.”

“This is only a starting point and ELPC will work with members to ensure REAP receives effective mandatory funding in a final bill. Last week, more than 80 organizations from across the country sent a letter to Congress expressing strong support for continuing REAP with reliable funding,“ said Ann Mesnikoff, ELPC’s Federal Legislative Director.

REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to adopt energy efficiency and renewable energy. The program serves all agricultural sectors and has reached every state. REAP has been highly popular with farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses, with requests regularly exceeding available funds.

To download the letter please visit http://farmenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/FINAL-REAP-SUPPORT-LETTER-April-3-2018.pdf

 

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Diverse Groups Send Letter Supporting REAP

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

(April 3rd, 2018) Eighty diverse organizations from around the country signed a letter to Congressional agriculture committees in support of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). (more…)

Senate Testimony on REAP Benefits for American Agriculture

Friday, October 13th, 2017

The Senate Agriculture Committee recently held a hearing on Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill. Senators heard from USDA staff and rural development experts and got important perspective on the value of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to agriculture and rural America.

Mark Olinyk testifies in front of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Energy Issues in the Farm Bill (PRNewsfoto/Harvest Energy Solutions)

Mark Olinyk, President and CEO of Harvest Energy Solutions, based in Jackson, Michigan, shared his direct experience with REAP, which provides incentives to farmers and rural businesses to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Olinyk strongly endorsed REAP and urged the Senate to increase funding for REAP in the next Farm Bill, along with other recommendations.

Olinyk, who has a farming background himself, praised REAP for helping American agriculture; “Put simply, the farmers and small businesses we work with could not afford the renewable energy systems we provide without upfront financing provided through the REAP program.”

Harvest Energy Solutions serves the agricultural community with help from REAP, by providing means to lower and stabilize energy costs: “REAP allows our clients to save electricity, save money, achieve greater efficiencies, and make their operations more stable, less risky, and more profitable,” Olinyk pointed out.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the committee, pointed out that REAP is “consistently over-subscribed with more interest than funding” and asked Mr. Olinyk for his views on this.

Olinyk responded that “the more available REAP money, the more benefit to farmers and businesses. Period. It produces jobs.” “That means more clean, renewable energy, and more jobs and economic growth in rural areas,” said Olinyk.

Benefits to Farmers

Kris Green Farm, Wakeman, Ohio

REAP’s benefits are visible, dependable, and necessary.

Mr. Olinyk emphasized the benefit provided by REAP for farmers, and especially poultry growers, struggling with low commodity prices and high input costs. In some cases he said these farmers are being stretched thin and their continued operation could be in doubt. REAP alleviates increasing energy costs, allowing farmers to concentrate their expenses on improving and expanding agricultural production.

Said Olinyk, “Farmers (who were already making slim margins) are being stretched too thin. REAP grants have allowed them to invest back in to their operations with solar energy, insulation, lighting, and other energy efficiency upgrades.”

Rural Economic Development and Job Growth

Alexander Pork – Promise City, IA

Not only does REAP offer direct financial benefits to farmers, it additionally provides rural economic development by leveraging private investment. Olinyk described a number of projects where the REAP grant made a decisive difference in the investment, providing an economic domino effect that helps the whole community. Studies have shown that REAP has great impact on job creation.

“In total, we have completed hundreds of successful solar and wind installations in the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In these states we are providing clean, renewable energy while creating economic growth and wealth in rural communities,” said clean energy entrepreneur Mark Olinyk.

Business Opportunities

Tripp Furches – Murray, KY

From farmers in Kentucky to Iowa, REAP’s impact is evident. One example is Tripp Furches, a Kentucky grain operator. Furches was hesitant to build solar on his farm, even though he knew of the long term benefits it would have. As with so many farmers, Furches’ input costs were not going down, but the sale price of his corn was.

Furches secured a renewable energy grant through REAP and was able to build a beautiful, cost-saving solar array on his land.  These fiscal limitations made Furches hesitant to build solar on his farm, even though he knew of the long term benefits it would have. Mr. Furches freed up enough income to expand and diversify his farming operation. In September, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell visited Furches’ family farm to see this success story first hand.

You can download Mr. Olinyk’s Senate testimony here (PDF).

 

Congressional Appropriators Finish Work on FY18 Funding

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

The 2018 funding picture for farm energy development programs came into sharper focus after the appropriations committees of both houses of Congress passed fiscal year 2018 agricultural appropriations bills.  However, it’s not at all clear what happens from here.

The Senate bill cut or rescinded a total of $64 million from farm energy programs. Overall, the House bill cut farm energy funding far deeper than the Senate, and targeted REAP in particular. The House cut or rescinded a total of $213 million from farm energy programs. In some cases rescinding funds carried forward from previous years, as provided in the 2014 Farm Bill

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP): The Senate bill protects REAP from cuts in mandatory Farm Bill funding and even adds a small amount in discretionary funding. This comes as a relief given the Trump budget would cut all mandatory funding, plus rescind all carryover funds – which would have been the worst cuts in the history of the program. Historically, the Senate leads in protecting Farm energy programs, including REAP.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee cut REAP from $50 million in mandatory funding to $9 million. Unfortunately, during the full Appropriations Committee consideration of the bill,  Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt sought to cut REAP even further, to a mere $1 (one) million, in a manager’s amendment. This cut would essentially kill the program. However, an error in the amendment the committee passed may spare REAP the second round of cuts. We will continue to monitor the House if this bill moves to the floor after the summer recess.

Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP): Appropriations Committees in both chambers capped BCAP, from an original $25 million in mandatory funding to zero.

Biorefinery Assistance Program: Under the 2014 Farm Bill this program did not have any mandatory funding for FY 2018. The Farm Bill, however, provided for funds to carry over from previous years to support the program. There were $178 million in carryover funds in the program’s account. The House Appropriations Committee rescinded all but $31 million while the Senate committee left $139 million in the account.

The next steps in the appropriations process are not clear. Under the regular order of business the bills would go to the full House and Senate and then a Conference Committee would work out differences. At this point the House may be bundling packages of appropriations bills for consideration; the Senate process is moving more slowly. Some  observers expect that FY 18 appropriations will be covered by an omnibus bill (or bills) just as we had for FY 2017 and FY 2016 before that.