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Senate Deliberates On Rural Development and Energy in the Farm Bill

July 22, 2010

On Wednesday, July 21, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry convened to hear from several witnesses regarding rural development and the farm bill.  The hearing centered on the potential benefits of alternative fuels production and research both for developing rural communities and for strengthening national security.  A list of witnesses and a link to an audio replay is available here.

Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) commenced the hearing with an optimistic forecast of job creation and reduced dependence on foreign oil, both of which she said will stem from a growing rural enthusiasm to play a role in reviving the national economy and ensuring energy security.

USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager showed support for fuel diversification, which he identified as an opportunity for investment in rural communities.  Accordingly, increasing confidence in the advanced biofuel industry has become a primary goal for the USDA.

The Committee warned against bureaucratic attempts to “improve legislation” and encouraged the USDA to coordinate with multiple agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure that energy regulations do not inhibit rural development.

Growth Energy Co-Chair General Wesley Clark strongly emphasized the effects that energy independence will have for job creation and national security. “We do not need to be spending $300 billion a year on foreign oil,” Clark asserted.

Clark strongly advocated for the diversion of a portion of the ethanol blender’s tax credit toward development of ethanol infrastructure—namely blender pumps, flex-fuel vehicles, ethanol pipelines, and an increased blend wall to E15—to support a strong market for corn-based ethanol.  “We have to work on the demand side, and the supply side will follow.”  According to Clark, once the government provides demand stimulation, market innovation will lead the way toward an advanced renewable energy future.

With respect to the next farm bill, Senator Mike Johanns pointed out that the budget for the Energy Title of the next bill will be only $500 million compared to the $1.9 billion energy title from the 2008 Farm Bill.  Johanns questioned how a strong renewable energy and biomass package could be put together with so many fewer dollars.

This hearing was the second of a series that will continue to review the implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill in preparation for the 2012 reauthorization.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Rural Development

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