Biomass Crop Assistance Program – Additional Concerns
October 29th, 2010
Earlier this week NSAC issued a blog on the final rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), a rule that does not do nearly enough to ensure that BCAP will focus on projects for the establishment of perennial bioenergy crops. USDA’s Farm Service Agency also issued this week a record of decision for the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for BCAP that raises additional concerns.
In the Record of Decision, FSA states that its intent is to implement BCAP for the purposes specified in the 2008 Farm Bill, specifically to promote the establishment and production of eligible dedicated energy crops. But unfortunately, FSA also states its view that BCAP’s incentives and assistance should be like the incentives for production of traditional row crops. For FSA, BCAP appears to be just another commodity program, with little specific indication of the agency intending to exercise its discretion to ensure that the program actually serves its legislative goals.
Under the Record of Decision, FSA chooses to implement BCAP with the following features:
- There is no particular focus on perennial bioenergy crops. Instead all bio-based products produced by a biomass conversion facility in a BCAP project area can be supported with BCAP funding, including payments for annual crops that may have no energy benefits; and
- Advanced biofuels produced by BCAP project area biomass conversion facilities do not need to meet current EPA standards for advanced biofuels that ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower than the emissions for the production of fossil fuel gasoline.
- FSA also says that it does not need to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act for environmental review of the Collection, Harvest, Storage and Transportation (CHST) component of BCAP because the agency decided that it has no choice but to give the maximum matching payment for removing crop residues and other biomaterial from the land and delivering the material to a biomass conversion facility.
CHST payments are to be made on a first-come, first-served basis at the statutory maximum payment rate for all comers. Absent a hard funding cap, this approach could result in diminished funding or theoretically at least even no funding for BCAP projects.
As we noted in our earlier post, FSA also continues with its strange notion that algae, animal waste, and food and yard wastes are “crops” eligible for BCAP funding, opening the door to first-come, first-served payments for CAFO animal waste and for a wide variety of non-farm projects.
While the agency indicated in the preamble to the BCAP final rule that it estimates spending $264 million for CHST payments in FY2011 and FY2012 and $122 million for BCAP projects between FY 2011 and FY 2026, FSA also insists it has no discretion over CHST payments and that commodity crop residues and animal and food/yard waste are eligible. Under this scenario, there appears to be no brake on CHST spending.
A positive highlight in the Record of Decision is FSA’s decision to allow small and pilot scale biomass conversion facilities to participate in BCAP projects instead of limiting projects to large commercial facilities.
FSA still has time to refocus BCAP funding on projects for perennial crop bioenergy production that can combine project funding and targeted CHST funding with good conservation measures. These are the projects needed to incorporate sustainable bioenergy production into U.S. agriculture. We hope that regardless of the problems with the final rule and with the PEIS, this is still where they will spend the bulk of the funding available and that their detailed implementation decisions will support such an outcome.