By Kathleen M. Roberts
On September 28, 2017, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing titled “Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill” to gather stakeholder input regarding the programs under the Farm Bill that are working or need improvement. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) stated that it is critical for the next Farm Bill to support renewable energy and biobased product manufacturers, as well as rural businesses, cooperatives, health clinics, schools, and other essential service providers.
During the hearing, two panels presented testimony related to the Farm Bill. The first panel consisted of the Assistant to the Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development; the Acting Administrator for the Rural Utilities Service; the Acting Administrator for the Rural Housing Service; and the Acting Administrator for the Rural Business Cooperative Service, and discussed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s vision for fostering growth and economic prosperity throughout rural America and provided an update on program functions within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. The second panel consisted of private sector stakeholders, including Dr. Brent Shanks, the Director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Engineering Research Center of Biorenewable Chemicals. During his testimony, Shanks suggested improvements to Title IX of the 2018 Farm Bill aimed at decoupling the risks between technology, market, and infrastructure inherent in completely new biorefineries.
More information on the testimony provided during the hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
On October 27, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed to amend the regulations for the Voluntary Labeling Program for Biobased Products under USDA's BioPreferred Program. As explained in the Federal Register notice, the proposed amendments are needed to address certain legislative requirements in the 2014 Farm Bill that cannot be implemented without further guidance. Specifically, the proposed amendments allow for USDA promotion of biobased products regardless of date of entry into the marketplace, which overrides previous provisions that excluded mature market products. The proposal includes USDA promotion of biobased products, including forest products that incorporate "innovative approaches" per the direction of Congress. The proposal also revises the definition of "biobased product" to include forest products that meet biobased content requirements, regardless of the product's market share, age, or whether it is new.
The major provisions of the proposed rule include:
* Changes to Definitions: USDA proposes to delete definitions of "BioPreferred Product," "Designated Item," and "Mature Market Products." USDA proposes to revise the definitions of "Biobased Product," "Certification Mark Artwork," and "Intermediate Ingredient or Feedstock," and to add new definitions for "Designated Product Category," "Forest Product," "Qualified Biobased Product," and "Renewable Chemical."
* Changes to "Criteria for Product Eligibility to Use the Certification Mark": USDA proposes to describe the biobased content criteria for complex assemblies and to update the voluntary labeling program rules to include these products. USDA also proposes to present the criteria for determining whether a product is using "innovative approaches."
* Changes to "Initial Approval Process": USDA proposes to address situations in which a manufacturer seeks certification for a product that is similar in biobased ingredients and contact to a previously certified product. The proposal also clarifies that manufacturers of certified products are subject to periodic auditing and potential suspension or revocation of certification if violations are found. USDA also proposes to revoke a certification if an error is discovered during the USDA approval process.
* Changes to "Oversight and Monitoring": USDA proposes specific auditing efforts that will be used for the voluntary labeling program. USDA plans to audit the program on an ongoing basis with specific audit activities scheduled every other calendar year.
The proposed rule is open for comment for 60 days, with a comment deadline of December 26, 2014. More information is available in the USDA press release on the voluntary labeling program proposal.
On September 18, 2014, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $68 million in 540 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide. This is the most recent in a series of USDA actions designed to help strengthen the country's energy sector. The funding is available through the USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP was created by the 2008 Farm Bill and was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. For more information, go online.
On August 1, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final rule on "Guidelines for Designating Biobased Products for Federal Procurement." A copy of the rule is available online. The rule is effective on September 2, 2014.
Under the rule, wood products will become eligible under USDA's BioPreferred Program, which was created under the 2002 Farm Bill. The rule removes language that excluded mature markets from the program. This change will open up the program to the pulp and paper industry. In a public statement, the President and CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association called the rule a "step in the right direction."
USDA is expected to issue guidance next month on how wood products may be eligible under the BioPreferred Program.
On May 20, 2014, the House Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee) and the Senate Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee) marked up and passed their separate versions of a Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 spending bill for USDA. A copy of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee's draft bill is available online. A copy of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee's "Mark-up Bill Summary" for its version of the FY 2015 USDA spending bill is available online.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee's bill is controversial and includes steep cuts to Farm Bill Energy Title programs recently expanded and provided mandatory funding by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill), including to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. Mandatory funding is not usually subject to cuts through the annual appropriations process. The biofuels and renewable chemicals industries are working to ensure mandatory funding for these programs is included in the final FY 2015 USDA spending bill.
The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) reported on the significance of the expanded Energy Title programs and mandatory funding for them provided under the 2014 Farm Bill. A copy of that report is available online.
On April 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it has launched a website that provides details on Farm Bill implementation. The website provides useful information on USDA's implementation of the Farm Bill and includes information on the economic implications of the bill's implementation prepared by the Economic Research Service.
On March 13, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a meeting to share information with stakeholders about the 2014 Farm Bill implementation process related to Energy and the Bioeconomy. A copy of the USDA press release is available online.
On March 14, 2014, USDA will hold a listening session on implementation of the Farm Bill's Biobased Markets, or BioPreferred Program. To register for the webinar, please visit online.
President Obama is expected to sign H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the new five-year Farm Bill), into law on Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He is scheduled to speak there about the importance of the legislation.
The Farm Bill is critically significant to the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries because the new Farm Bill continues and expands on the majority of the energy programs covered under the 2008 Farm Bill and provides $881 million in mandatory funding to carry them out. For instance, the new Farm Bill continues the Biobased Markets and Biorefinery Assistance programs, as well as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which helps encourage and facilitate the growth of purpose grown energy crops to be used for energy production. It modifies the existing Biorefinery Assistance Program to create the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program and extend funding eligibility to producers of renewable chemicals and biobased products. The mandatory funding under this program and expanded eligibility marks a big victory for the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2642 by a bi-partisan vote of 251-166 on January 29, 2014. The Senate followed suit on February 4, 2014, by a bi-partisan vote of 68-32.
On Monday, the 41 member bicameral Farm Bill Conference Committee announced that it had reached agreement on a compromise Farm Bill, the Agriculture Act of 2014. A copy of the legislation is available online. The Conference Committee was led by House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS). A copy of the Senate Agriculture Committee press release on the compromise legislation is available online.
The bill includes $881 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy programs over the next ten years, and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals for the first time. It continues the majority of the energy programs covered under the 2008 Farm Bill, including the Biobased Markets and Biorefinery Assistance Programs, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to help encourage and facilitate the growth of purpose grown energy crops to be used for energy production. The legislation will modify the existing Biorefinery Assistance Program to create the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program that would expand funding eligibility to producers of renewable chemicals and biobased products. This mandatory funding and expanded eligibility marks a big victory for the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries.
The House of Representatives passed this compromise Farm Bill on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. The Senate is expected to take it up for consideration and potentially vote on it as early as the end of this week. The President is expected to sign it.
Just before adjourning for its winter recess, the U.S. House of Representatives approved on December 13, 2013, by voice vote an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through January 31, 2014. The vote is considered symbolic because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asserted that the Senate will not consider an extension. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representative Colin Peterson (D-MN), two of the principals leading Farm Bill negotiations, have reportedly stated that an extension is unnecessary since they expect to prepare in final a framework for the next Farm Bill to be passed by Congress before the end of January. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be required, absent a new Farm Bill, to set up a supply-side management program after December 31, 2013, it is expected that Congress will pass a new five-year Farm Bill by the end of January 2014, when such a program would effectively be up and running.