On Tuesday, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Environmental and Energy Study Institute brought together national and regional experts on agriculture and clean energy development to brief Congress from the field on the importance of the Rural Energy for America Program and other parts of the Farm Bill Energy Title.
"The purpose of these briefings was to provide some education on the Farm Bill energy programs," ELPC Senior Policy Advocate Andy Olsen said. "There are a lot of new staff in town and they're doing a lot of work on the Farm Bill so we want to make sure that they are aware of the value of these programs to American agriculture and to American society in general."
Olsen says both briefings, one in the House and one in the Senate, were well attended by Congressional staff members. Olsen told them about the Biorefineries Assistance Program, changes that have been made to improve the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the importance of REAP.
"The U.S. reached many different policy goals of rural economic development, energy security and clean energy development in our rural communities where so many of our resources are based," Olsen said. "It is very important that we continue these programs; we can't pull the plug on them now because we'll find it that much harder to make progress over the long term. We need consistent efforts and we can't rely on crash programs after the next energy crisis."
Former Chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Bruce Knight also participated in the briefing. Currently a dairy advisor for Strategic Conservation Solutions, he talked about the importance of these programs to the dairy sector, specifically the Farm Energy Audit Program and the Dairy Power Initiative and how important it is for them to have access to the Rural Development programs.
"We've got a three-pronged strategy there, it is awareness, education and action," Knight said. "That's really key because we see energy audits as a keystone in improving energy efficiency on many farms as well as taking them to the next step if they want to get involved in energy generation."
Bill Midcap, a Rural Development Specialist for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, discussed how rural electric cooperatives have taken advantage of REAP and are just now seeing the benefits of that program. He shared several success stories with the audience and the need to continue these programs.
"To end the program now would be really similar to a farmer eating his or her own seeds that he intends to plant next year," Midcap said. "We just can't stop the program today, it is imperative that we continue on with this rural energy program."
The presenters urged producers to not take the continuation of these programs for granted and to speak up and make sure their representatives in Washington D.C. know that there is an important value in these programs. They also recommended speaking to the farm groups they belong to and make sure that they are also advocating for the programs as well.More information from the briefings can be found at www.eesi.org and at www.farmenergy.org.