APPROPRIATIONS: Key biofuels program nixed in House agriculture budget measure

House appropriators yesterday voted to eliminate funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program amid a series of cuts made to the Department of Agriculture’s fiscal 2012 budget.

The Appropriations Committee also voted to slash funding to a number of farm bill conservation programs and nutrition programs in the $17.25 billion budget that will now go to the full House for a vote. The budget is approximately $2.7 billion below fiscal 2011’s final budget and $5 billion below the Obama administration’s request.

The bill “reflects our attempt to get the national debt under control,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program provides matching payments for materials sold to biomass conversion facilities and pays producers to grow renewable biomass crops. It was created in the 2008 farm bill and only last month received approval from USDA for the first major project award.

Biofuels groups have said that killing the program “is a huge mistake” and would set back U.S. biofuels production.

Meanwhile, appropriators saved the Rural Energy for America Program in an amendment offered by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

REAP, which took an 87 percent cut in discretionary funding in the fiscal 2011 budget, had been in danger of also being eliminated in the new plan. Kaptur’s amendment saves the program by transferring $1.3 million from unexpended administrative funds into the REAP title.

Funding REAP is the only way the United States can catch up to other countries and develop renewable energy systems, Kaptur said.

Appropriators also saved the Women, Infants and Children program in an amendment offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), an outspoken supporter of the nutritional supplement program.

DeLauro’s amendment would halt cotton subsidies to Brazilian farms and transfer $147 million to the WIC nutritional supplement program.

Lawmakers in total offered up about 20 amendments. Included was one by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) that would force the Food and Drug Administration to rely on “hard science,” not “soft science,” when promulgating regulations.

The amendment prompted a litany of concerns from Democratic appropriators, who said it does not provide a definition of “hard science.” Appropriators approved the amendment by voice vote.

Another approved amendment, introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), cuts off proposed funding for horses meant for slaughter. The United States does not consume horse meat, Moran argued, and therefore inspections would only benefit foreign corporations that serve markets that do.

Conservation programs

Farm bill conservation programs did not fare well in the marked up measure. The bill cuts deeply into mandatory spending of conservation programs, a development opposed by conservation and farm groups.

“Conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America,” more than 50 conservation, environmental and agriculture groups wrote in a letter to House appropriators yesterday. “Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agriculture industry, drive up long-term costs for environmental mitigation and threaten our nation’s food security.”

The Conservation Stewardship Program would be cut $171 million relative to the level mandated by the farm bill, after it was slashed by $39 million in the final 2011 budget.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps farmers make environmental improvements, would be cut by $350 million. The Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program would be reduced by 64,200 acres and 96,000 acres, respectively.

A balancing act

Kingston said the magnitude of the nation’s debt crisis requires that the committee dig into mandatory spending.

“Mandatory spending has gone out of control or gone up tremendously,” Kingston said. “And we’re never going to be able to balance the budget until we address mandatory spending.”

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he was confident that the bill being sent to the House for a full vote funds the core missions of USDA’s agencies and programs. The Senate, meanwhile, has not voted on or marked up a 2012 budget resolution.

“We can rest assured knowing that we have found real and deep savings in this bill while still providing the programs and services that are lifelines for many rural communities,” Rogers said.

Read more posts in Press Releases • Tagged as , , • Permalink