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Monday, November 4, 2013

Renewable Energy Programs and the Farm Bill: Status and Issues

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Title IX, the energy title of the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-240), contains the bioenergy programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA renewable energy programs have incentivized research, development, and adoption of renewable energy projects, including solar, wind, and anaerobic digesters. However, the primary focus of USDA renewable energy programs has been to promote U.S. biofuels production and use—including corn starch-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and soybean-based biodiesel.

Cornstarch-based ethanol dominates the U.S. biofuels industry. The 2008 farm bill attempted to refocus U.S. biofuels policy initiatives in favor of non-corn feedstocks, especially the development of the cellulosic biofuels industry. The most critical programs to this end are the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, which pays producers for production of eligible advanced biofuels; the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which assists in the development of new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels; the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which assists farmers in developing nontraditional crops for use as feedstocks for the eventual production of cellulosic ethanol or other second-generation biofuels; and the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP), which has funded a variety of biofuels-related projects including the installation of blender pumps to help circumvent the emerging blend wall that could potentially circumscribe domestic ethanol consumption near current levels of about 13 billion gallons.

The 2008 farm bill authorized slightly over $1 billion in mandatory funding for energy programs for FY2008 through FY2012, while discretionary funding in the 2008 farm bill totaled $1.7 billion. However, actual discretionary appropriations to Title IX energy programs have been substantially below authorized levels through FY2012.

All of the major Title IX bioenergy programs expired at the end of FY2012 and lacked baseline funding going forward. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA; P.L. 112-240) extends the 2008 farm bill through FY2013. However, all major bioenergy provisions of Title IX—with the exception of the Feedstock Flexibility Program for Bioenergy Producers—have no new mandatory funding in FY2013 under the ATRA farm bill extension. If policymakers want to continue these programs under either the 2008 farm bill extension or in the next farm bill, they will need to pay for the program with offsets.

In the 113
th Congress, both the Senate-passed (S. 954) and House-passed (H.R. 2642) bills would extend most of the renewable energy provisions of Title IX, with the exception of the Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative, the Forest Biomass for Energy Program, the Biofuels Infrastructure Study, and the Renewable Fertilizer Study, which are either omitted or explicitly repealed by both bills. In addition, S. 954 omits the Repowering Assistance Program, while H.R. 2642 adds a new reporting requirement on energy use and efficiency at USDA facilities. Otherwise, the primary difference between the House and Senate bills is in the source of funding. Over their five-year reauthorization period (FY2014-FY2018), the Senate bill contains a total of $900 million in new mandatory funding and authorizes $1.140 billion in appropriations for the various Title IX programs. In contrast, H.R. 2642 contains no mandatory funding for Title IX programs, while authorizing $1.405 billion over the five years, subject to annual appropriations. In addition, the House bill eliminates all support for the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation (CHST) component of BCAP, severely limiting its potential effectiveness as an incentive to produce cellulosic feedstocks.

Date of Report: October 25, 2013
Number of Pages: 46
Order Number: R41985
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