House Passes Farm Bill: $$$ for Clean Energy

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the controversial 2007 Farm Bill on Friday. The five-year farm bill, which is projected to cost over $280 billion, includes $2.4 billion set aside for clean energy, which is allocated for wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and biofuels.

There has been much debate over tax measures and subsidies in the bill as well as who should benefit from the funds. The Senate will look at the bill later this year, but the bill is a step closer to easing some financial fears held by farmers growing biofuel crops, who have been concerned about rising corn and soy prices. Though, some say the bill doesn’t go far enough.

The last Farm Bill, which was passed in 2002 and expires on Sept. 30, 2007, set aside $23 million per year for energy projects, says Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Olson calls the 2007 Farm Bill a “great step forward to increase the commitment to farm-based energy.” breaks down the clean energy spending in the bill:

  • $2.17 billion for the Renewable Energy and Efficiency loan guarantee program
  • $500 million in grants under the same program
  • $100 million to help share the cost of developing crops for non-corn-based ethanol production
  • $18 million toward expanding markets for those products.
  • $150 million for cellulosic ethanol research grants and another
  • $500 million for university-level bioenergy research.

But the $2 billion and change isn’t enough to ease all concerns. Some advocacy groups have called for as much as $5 billion over the next five years.

“Five year funding still short of need,” notes a release we received from the Environmental Law & Policy Center. John Moore, the Center’s staff attorney, said to us in an e-mail that:

Total energy spending is still a small fraction of total farm bill spending – still under 1% of the five year budget. That’s why we’re urging the Senate to invest in $1 billion a year over the next five years — John Moore, Environmental Law & Policy Center

(For a quick overview of the history of the bill and its issues, check out “A Fair Farm Bill for Renewable Energy,” a paper drafted by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.)

“I think it’s a start, he was looking to get $5 billion, they got $2.4. But renewable energy is certainly a priority, or at least it should be,” said Ryan Wolf, who owns a Leseur, Minnesota-based wind farm. His family’s farm Wolf Wind Enterprises received grant funds from the
9006 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act
, which was part of the 2002 Farm Bill.

Wolfe and his father Mike Wolf stand in front of a wind turbine in Minnesota

The 2007 Farm Bill also creates several new programs and expands pre-existing ones, including:

  • The Rural Energy for America Program: “expands and improves the Farm Bill’s renewable energy/energy efficiency incentives for locally-owned wind power, energy efficiency, solar energy, and other clean energy projects.”
  • Biorefinery expansion: “critical to jumpstart advanced biofuels production.”
  • Biomass research and development: “new research investments for advanced crop-based fuel and power expansion.
  • Biomass energy reserve: “will catalyze sustainable development of energy crops to hep meet our nation’s fuel needs and reduce reliance on imported oil.”

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