After years of negotiations, the United States House and Senate have passed a comprehensive Farm Bill which will be signed into law by President Obama on February 7 at Michigan State University, the alma mater of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). On February 4, the Senate voted 68-32 to approve the five-year authorization bill, formally titled the Agriculture Act of 2014. The House passed the legislation last week.
While the bill predictably includes provisions which impact farm programs and also authorizes nutrition programs, in addition, it includes an Energy Title which provides support to many feedstock growers as well as traditional farmers who improve the energy efficiency of their operations.
The Energy Title of the bill – Title IX – reauthorizes programs such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program – a loan guarantee program for biorefineries. The new bill extends this program beyond fuel to chemical and bio-based product manufacturing. It also reauthorizes the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to provide financial support to growers of biomass feedstocks; the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which provides support for farmers who reduce energy consumption in a variety of ways; and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) which provides grants for research, development, and demonstration of advance biofuels and bio-based products.
The bill actually goes much further than simply reauthorizing these and other Energy Programs; it provides $881 million in mandatory funding under the Energy Title, meaning that the funding is obligated by virtue of the Farm Bill and does not need to be approved in the annual appropriations process.
All in all, the Energy Title is considered to be robust and the Farm Bill is getting high marks from the renewable energy community.