House Ag Appropriations votes to cut BCAP, REAP

By Lisa Gibson | May 25, 2011

Just a few weeks after the USDA announced the first project area for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has voted to eliminate BCAP funding for 2012. Not only that, but the subcommittee’s May 24 vote included an elimination of Rural Energy for America Program funding, as well.

Both elements of the 2008 Farm Bill, the programs are considered integral for farmers and rural businesses developing biomass heat and power. “The House could not be sending a clearer signal that they don’t care about rising on-farm energy prices,” said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental legal advocacy group in the Midwest. “This ‘do-nothing’ approach strikes at the heart of America’s ‘can do’ attitude.”

BCAP is designed to provide financial incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to produce biomass crops for heat, power, biobased products and advanced biofuels. The first project area, approved May 5, was proposed by Missouri-based Show Me Energy. The 39-county area in central and western Missouri, as well as eastern Kansas, was to consist of lowland and highland native mix grasses. Show Me Energy Board President Steve Flick was hopeful the approved project area would bring some energy to the plagued program, which has suffered through budget cuts and has been delayed because of project qualification problems. Flick told ELPC that eliminating REAP and BCAP is like “leaving your wedding before you say ‘I do.’”

REAP is farther along and has seen more success than BCAP, having helped nearly 6,000 farmers and rural businesses in every state in the U.S. with grants and loan guarantees to finance new clean energy and energy efficiency projects, drive private investment and save on energy costs. It has been especially crucial in Georgia, Olsen said. Many projects have been developed with the help of REAP and many more are just coming up, he added. “We’re seeing a lot of other states just starting to come around and we’re just bearing some fruit from the program; we’re working out some of the problems and then boom: they cut our knees out.”

The decision to eliminate the programs still needs to go through the House Appropriations Committee and then the full House, as well as the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Senate Appropriations Committee and full Senate. Unfortunately, Olsen expects the final House action will be to eliminate the programs, based on the agriculture subcommittee’s vote. “We may see that these programs are just slashed,” he said. “I’d be very happy to be wrong about that point and see the House come back and restore the funding for these programs.”

ELPC is stressing the importance of contacting elected representatives to urge the maintenance of farm energy programs. “This is not the time to be complacent,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing. We’re going to keep leaving the door open.”

Some organizations have already begun to communicate their displeasure with the vote. “These radical cuts could not come at a worse time,” said Aviva Glaser, agriculture policy coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. “With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, fuel and fiber for our nation and the world, Farm Bill conservation programs are needed now more than ever. These programs have demonstrated benefits for soil, water, wildlife, and rural economies.” Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation, added that eliminating BCAP is shortsighted and will impede the development of next generation bioenergy.