BCAP, REAP still on chopping block, but some hope remains

By Lisa Gibson | June 07, 2011

The House Appropriations Committee didn’t break from the vote of the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee to eliminate 2012 funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, but new developments are stirring hope for the Rural Energy for America Program.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, added an amendment during the appropriation committee’s May 31 meeting that restored $1.3 million to REAP funding, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Although a small amount, it would allow the USDA to operate the program in 2012 and plan for 2013. REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for a wide range of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

“This is another step in Re. Kaptur’s leadership for REAP and agriculture-based clean energy,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Keeping REAP alive will benefit greenhouse growers, dairy farmers, solar manufacturers and other businesses in the heartland.” Olsen added that Kaptur was able to locate the money in a USDA administrative account.

In the Senate, another glimmer of hope remains, as Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote a letter to his colleagues urging them to preserve funding for both programs. The issue has gotten no vote yet in any Senate subcommittees or committees.

The outcome for BCAP in the House, however, is more uncertain. With no amendments in its favor, the budget will proceed to the full House floor with no funding for the program, which provides matching payments to producers of nonfood dedicated energy crops. USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong said her office found wide-ranging problems with the initial administration of the program by the Farm Service Agency, caused by hasty implementation. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who initially supported the program and chaired the House Agricultural Committee when it was authorized in the Farm Bill, has since said the program is worthless and he does not support an extension, according to the Farm Service Agency.

Thus far, any support for the maintenance of the programs, both aspects of the 2008 Farm Bill, has come from Democrats, but Olsen hopes support from the other side of the aisle will begin to trickle in. “This year, we cannot get the vocal Republican support,” he said.

Exactly when the full House will vote on the budget is anybody’s guess and Olsen said it’s a wild card. “We’ve got this looming issue of the debt limit,” he said. But one thing is clear: the country will not succeed in its clean energy push with such roller coaster support. Without consistency in incentives, the U.S. cannot progress with its renewable energy goals, Olsen said.