Senator Franken Offers Blueprint for Energy Section of New Farm Bill

Senator Al Franken (D-MN)

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) stood up for farmers, producers, and rural businesses in Minnesota and across the country by introducing a package of legislation that he hopes will serve as the basis for the new energy section of the next Farm Bill.

The measure, which is supported by fellow Midwest Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will build on the 2014 Farm Bill by increasing investments in its popular energy programs—like REAP, which you can read about here. This move will help agricultural producers and rural businesses deploy more renewable energy projects and cut energy costs. Among its many other significant provisions, the energy section will also support advanced biofuel production, improve the market for sustainable agriculture feedstocks, and will help keep sugar prices stable, which is critical to farming families in Northwest Minnesota.

“Each and every day, our nation’s farmers have our backs,” said Sen. 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.”

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) also weighed in on Sen. Franken’s efforts:

“Minnesota Farmers Union supports a strong energy title in the Farm Bill reauthorization,” said Gary Wertish, MFU President. “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.”

Last year, in anticipation of the Farm Bill reauthorization, Sen. Franken hosted a statewide “Rural Energy for America Program” tour, where he met with farmers and business throughout Minnesota about how to build on the program. Minnesota is one of the biggest recipients of REAP grants and loan guarantees, which helped inform Sen. Franken’s decision to push for stronger REAP funding in the legislation he introduced today.

You can read more about the specific provisions in the legislation below: 

  • Section 9002: Biobased Markets Program. Promotes biobased products through two initiatives: (1) a mandatory purchasing requirement for federal agencies and their contractors and (2) a voluntary labeling initiative for biobased products. Products that meet the minimum biobased content criteria may display the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Biobased Product label. 
  • Section 9003: Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. Seeks to facilitate the development of new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels, renewable chemical, and biobased product manufacturing by providing loan guarantees for constructing or retrofitting commercial-scale biorefineries. 
  • Section 9004: Repowering Assistance Program (RAP). Provides payments to those biorefineries in existence as of June 18, 2008, that replace fossil fuel-based heat and power systems with renewable biomass. The Secretary of Agriculture determines the amount of the payment. USDA reports it will provide funding up to 50% of the total eligible project costs.
  • Section 9005: Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels. Provides payments to producers to support and expand advanced biofuels (i.e., not derived from corn starch). One payment type is based on “actual” biofuel production, and a second is for production increases. A cap of 5% of available funds per year is imposed on facilities that exceed an annual capacity of 150 million gallons. 
  • Section 9006: Biodiesel Fuel Education Program. Provides grants to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education that educate government and private entities that operate fleet vehicles, the public, and others about the benefits of biodiesel. 
  • Section 9007: Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Provides eligible entities (e.g., tribes; state or local governments; land-grant colleges or universities; rural electric cooperatives) with grants to support agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy audits and renewable energy assistance. Also provides loan guarantees and grants for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems (RESs). RESs include biofuels, and power generation from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, ocean, and some hydropower sources. RESs exclude retail energy dispensers (e.g., blender pumps). 
  • Section 9008: Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI). Offers competitive funding through grants, contracts, and financial assistance for research, development, and demonstration of technologies and processes for biofuels and biobased products. BRDI seeks to foster technologies capable of significant commercial production of biofuels competitively priced with fossil fuels; to develop biobased products that enhance the economic vitality of bioenergy; and to supply a diverse, sustainable supply of renewable biomass feedstock for conversion to bioenergy and bioproducts. Eligibility is limited to institutions of higher learning, national laboratories, federal or state research agencies, and private and nonprofit entities. 
  • Section 9009: Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). Designed to help stabilize sugar prices so as to avoid costly forfeitures under the sugar loan program. Under FFP, USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) may purchase sugar from processors for resale to ethanol producers for fuel ethanol.
  • Section 9010: Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Makes payments to owners and operators of agricultural land and nonindustrial private forest land for establishing, producing, and delivering biomass feedstock to eligible processing plants. Payments include (1) within BCAP project areas, establishment payments for perennial crops and annual payments of up to five years for non-woody crops and 15 years for woody biomass crops and (2) matching payments for up to two years for crop collection, harvest, storage and transportation of qualified biomass.

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