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Kemp responds to comments on “BCAP Boondoggle”

January 20, 2010


By Loni Kemp, consultant to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in response to a comment by  FSA employee Paul Harte on the article “BCAP Boondoggle” from January 11, 2010.

Mr. Harte from USDA is quick to accuse, but the BCAP law is quite clear about where there is discretion that the Farm Service Agency should use. It is also clear where they are directed to do certain things. (Excuse me on the FSA’s proper name.)

Specifically, the definition of eligible materials is renewable biomass, as defined in Section 9001 to include materials from national forests and public lands “that would not otherwise be used for higher-value products.” Thus the law says FSA should not provide payments for materials from these lands that other industries can make into furniture and building supplies.

While it is true that the law first states that “in general” USDA shall make a payment for the delivery of eligible material to a biomass conversion facility, two sentences later it explicitly states that USDA “may provide matching payments… in an amount equal to not more than $45 per ton.” Clearly, FSA can decide whether to make payments and what the amount should be.

The manger’s amendment described the core purpose of the final bill this way: “The Managers also intend that the primary focus of the BCAP will be promoting the cultivation of perennial bioenergy crops and annual bioenergy crops that show exceptional promise for producing highly energy-efficient bioenergy or biofuels, that preserve natural resources, and that are not primarily grown for food or animal feed.”

Several Agriculture Committee members who supported BCAP have told us they were astonished to see the four sentences creating the collection, harvest, storage and transportation payments morphed into the monster subsidy it has become. Meanwhile, the four pages directing the FSA to implement the crop establishment program have received no action whatsoever. It is called the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, is it not? It is not called the Forestry Biomass Subsidy Program.

As for environmental requirements, the manager’s amendment did describe the House bill as saying “Forest land owners are eligible for this Matching Payment if acting under a forest stewardship plan.”

FSA should have taken the advice provided in comments to the agency to include the matching payments in the programmatic environmental impact statement now under review. The matching payments would then receive extensive environmental and economic analysis to guide effective rulemaking.

We stand by the article. Perhaps the time has come for FSA to realize that not everything is an entitlement.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment


2 responses to “Kemp responds to comments on “BCAP Boondoggle””

  1. Paul Harte says:

    Hello Loni Kemp.

    See the following replies point by point to you most recent reply:

    1. “Mr. Harte from USDA is quick to accuse,”

    I was not “quick to accuse” – – my reply to your post came about 10 days after it was first posted according to the dates on your website.

    2. “…but the BCAP law is quite clear about where there is discretion that the Farm Service Agency should use. It is also clear where they are directed to do certain things.” And… “Clearly, FSA can decide whether to make payments”

    As I indicated in my first reply your opinion that the law allows the Secretary of Agriculture to limit payment to only new biomass conversion process or, or target payments to only those biomass sales/deliveries you support is simply wrong. It is actually “quite clear” that there no such authority.

    The first sentence in the law says… (1) In General. – The Secretary shall make a payment for the delivery of eligible material (biomass) to a biomass conversion facility to – (A) a producer of an eligible crop that is produced on BCAP contract acreage; or (B) a person with the right to collect or harvest eligible material. What part of SHALL do you not understand? How much clearer can the law be in this regard? There are no exceptions to this in the other 3 sentences of the law that follow.

    If Congress they wanted to target new biomass conversions only surely they would have added it to the law. Do you realize that under the 2002 Farm Bill’s large Bioenergy Program Congress actually explicitly directed the Secretary to pay only for increases in capacity, but did not do so in the BCAP law for Matching Payments. – – see USDA-ERS summary for the Bioenergy Program at:

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AP/AP022/AP022.pdf#Title9

    USDA-ERS SUMMARY 2002 Farm Bill – – Bioenergy Program “The Secretary of Agriculture makes payments through the CCC to eligible producers to encourage increased purchases of eligible commodities (energy feedstocks) for the purpose of expanding production of bioenergy and supporting new production capacity. Payments to eligible producers are based on the increase in quantity of bioenergy they produce during a fiscal year over the quantity they produced during the preceding fiscal year.”

    3. “As for environmental requirements, the manager’s amendment did describe the House bill as saying “Forest land owners are eligible for this Matching Payment if acting under a forest stewardship plan.”

    What is this criticism about? FSA did establish under the NOFA and in current program policy that under the Matching Payment Program Forest Stewardship Plans, (or other suitable plans approved by the State Forester), are required for biomass when harvested and collect by land owners from non-industrial private forestland. This was established in the NOFA to help ensure wood land stewardship even though the law does not mention this as a program requirement for Matching Payments.

    4. “FSA should have taken the advice provided in comments to the agency to include the matching payments in the programmatic environmental impact statement now under review. The matching payments would then receive extensive environmental and economic analysis to guide effective rulemaking.”

    The President of the United States issued a Presidential Directive to Secretary of Agriculture Tomas R. Vilsack to aggressively accelerate the investment in and production of biofuels (published in the Federal Register on May 7, 2009 (74 FR 21531–21532)). This release established a 30 day deadline for the issuance of “guidance and support” for CHST Matching Payments. How then would FSA be expected to wait so that “The matching payments would then receive extensive environmental and economic analysis to guide effective rulemaking” as you think proper? (Numerous other environmental and regulatory compliance requirements are also added in the NOFA though not established in the law; or mentioned in the managers’ report.)

    Its just like all the complaints about the Cash for Clunkers program money paid to Toyota dealers and not targeted to Detroit auto makers – – don’t blame the U.S. Dept. of Transportation for following a law that required them to pay Toyota. If you do not like the law contact the lawmakers

    Clearly the author needs to better understand the law and the BCAP program before she levels unfounded and flawed criticisms.

    -Paul Harte

  2. Joe Logger says:

    Well as usual,a good program gets messed up by greed.The bcap program does need to be revised in many ways.Giving timber buyers a percentage of the bark that is on round wood is a little over the top.The bcap money as stated was to be paid to the producers,not the people with their hands out.Also, the program should be intended for the fuel wood companies that are going behind loggers and cleaning up the logging slash that is being left behind.Maybe after further investigation,the USDA will get their crap together and fund the ones that are barely staying a float.

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