Franken drafts Farm Bill Energy Title featuring funding increases

By Erin Voegele | September 15, 2017

On Sept. 7, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced a package of legislation he hopes will serve as the basis for a new energy section of the next Farm Bill. The legislation increases investments in popular energy programs and includes a new and increased emphasis on high-value end products from biomaterials and an increased link between fire hazard reduction and biomass energy. The measure is supported by Sens. Kick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

According to information released by Franken’s office, the legislative package will help agricultural producers and rural businesses deploy more renewable energy projects and cut energy costs. The energy section will also support advanced biofuel production, improve the market for sustainable agriculture feedsocks, and will help keep sugar prices stable.

"Each and every day, our nation's farmers have our backs," said Franken, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. "I believe we need to have theirs as well. In Minnesota, one-in-five jobs is tied to agriculture, which means that the economic health of our entire state depends on farming. As we craft the 2018 Farm Bill in Congress, I'm fighting to make sure that Minnesota's ag priorities are being heard-and that's why I introduced this bill. My measure will support rural jobs, play a critical role in cutting energy costs, and help farmers and producers invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies."

"Minnesota Farmers Union supports a strong energy title in the Farm Bill reauthorization," said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. "Renewable energy programs included in this bill will provide many economic opportunities for farmers, and MFU appreciates Sen. Franken's leadership in developing this language."

Information provided by Franken’s office explains that the new bill seeks to increase overall Energy Title funding levels when compared to the 2014 Farm Bill, with the bulk of the funding going to the Section 9003 Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program; the Section 9007 Renewable Energy for America Program; and the Section 2010 Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Information released by Franken’s office refers to these programs as the “most important and successful program in the title.”

The bill also addresses the Section 9002 Biobased Markets Program, the Section 9004 Repowering Assistance Program, the Section 9005 Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, the Section 9006 Biodiesel Fuel Education Program, the Section 9008 Biomass Research and Development Initiative, and the Section 9009 Feedstock Flexibility Program.

The bill makes significant changes to several Energy Tile programs.

Regarding the Biobased Markets Program, the new bill provides for education programs to increase awareness of biobased products, developments annual auditing and tracking in the USDA’s voluntary Certified Renewable Chemicals and Biobased Product labeling program, allows for the creation of NAICS codes for renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturers, and provides explicit eligibility for products produced from biologically captured and reused carbon.

Changes to the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program include provisions to remove the requirement that an eligible biorefinery project must include biofuel production.

Changes to REAP include language that allows components of projects, such as storage, to be supported, along with ancillary infrastructure. The bill also places a cap on any one macro technology receiving more than 25 percent of the total awards each year, unless other viable projects do not apply or qualify to expend the remaining program funding.

The bill also makes several changes to BCAP, including changing the name to the Biofuels and Biobased Product Feedstock and Forest Protection Program. Algae and animal waste and byproducts would be listed as eligible materials under the program. The bill also more explicitly adds hazardous fuel reduction incentives and adds $50 million per year in funding to more aggressively encourage forest fire hazard reduction.

The bill sunsets the Repowering Assistance Program and Biodiesel Fuel Education Program. No significant changes are made the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, or the Feedstock Flexibility Program.