By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On January 8, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue presented to President Donald Trump the findings of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The Task Force was established in 2017 following an Executive Order by President Trump to ensure the informed exercise of regulatory authority that impacts agriculture and rural communities. According to the report, over 100 actions organized around five key topic areas, specifically e-connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, innovation and technology, and economic development, were identified.
Of the recommendations related to economic development, the Task Force identified regaining American energy dominance as a key objective. The report states that “[b]oosting production of all sources of energy from natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, and renewables is essential to America’s national security interest and rural America’s economy. The federal government must ensure a regulatory environment which can unleash this potential while keeping Americans safe and healthy.”
Regarding innovation and technology, the report recognizes biotechnology as “another area of U.S. leadership, being a sector that has driven innovation in fuels, chemicals, manufacturing, and agriculture.” The Task Force recommended that:
- The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other relevant agencies develop a communications strategy to increase acceptance of biotech products; and
- The federal government continue efforts to modernize the federal regulatory system for biotechnology products, particularly by:
- Coordinating the federal regulation of biotechnology products;
- Coordinating interagency action through the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and
- Expediting the commercialization of biotechnology products.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On April 25, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative Service published in the Federal Register a notice that it is requesting approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of a revision to a currently approved information collection for the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which provides funding to eligible advanced biofuel producers to support the production of biofuel products. The Rural Business-Cooperative Service is specifically seeking comments on the following topics:
- Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility;
- The accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
- Ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and
- Ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.
Comments on this notice, which are due by June 26, 2017, will be summarized and included in the request for OMB approval.
On August 7, 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $63 million in loans and grants to be distributed through its Rural Energy for American Program (REAP). The $63 million is divided among 264 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the nation, in primarily rural communities. In addition to creating jobs and improving local economies, the newly announced REAP projects are expected to either save or generate 207.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy. REAP funds may be used by agricultural producers and rural small businesses to improve energy efficiency or install renewable energy, including solar, wind, renewable biomass, hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen, and geothermal. Applications for the next round of REAP grants are due by November 2, 2015.
On December 29, 2014, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the final rule for the Rural Energy
for America Program (REAP). REAP is intended to help mainly
businesses, as well as some state, local, and tribal governments develop solar,
wind, and biomass projects. This new rule will change the requirements for
those applying for funding from the grant and loan guarantees for renewable
energy and energy efficiency improvements in rural areas. There is now a
three-tiered application process based on the total project cost for funding
that reduces the technical reporting requirements of the previous system. The
final rule also modifies scoring criteria for renewable energy and energy
efficiency improvement projects, and creates deadline dates for grant and
guaranteed loan applications. USDA estimates that this rule will have net cost
savings of approximately ten million dollars as a result of decreased costs in
program implementation. This final rule becomes effective on February 12, 2015.
In the past week, three significant letters have been sent to conferees charged with preparing in final the next five-year Farm Bill urging them to include an Energy Title that supports biofuel and renewable chemical development and production.
On November 1, 2013, 30 bi-partisan Members of Congress sent a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry urging Farm Bill conferees to include and make necessary investments in an Energy Title. The letter stresses the importance of this support for renewable energy to the nation and its rural economies. In particular, the letter urges continued support for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP), and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). A copy of the letter is available online.
On November 4, 2013, 14 bi-partisan Senators sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee urging Farm Bill conferees to include an Energy Title as passed by the Senate earlier this year, which would include $900 million in mandatory funding and support for biofuels and expanded support for renewable chemicals. In particular, the letter stresses the importance of the REAP, BAP, and BCAP programs, as well as the Biobased Markets Program. A copy of the letter is available online.
Also, on November 4, 2013, over 130 organizations signed a letter sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees similar to the one sent by the 14 Senators described above. A copy of the letter is available online.