The U.S. House of Representatives has unexpectedly failed to pass its version of the farm bill, dashing the hopes of those pushing for funding for renewable energy programs. The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act went down to defeat in a 195-234 vote. According to reports, many Republicans defied their leadership, which supported the bill, over the issues of agriculture subsidies and food stamps. A majority of Democrats voted against the bill.
Earlier, the House Rules Committee scuttled an amendment to the bill floated by Democrats to attach more than $1 billion in mandatory funding over the next five years for Energy Title programs, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP provides grants and loans to help rural businesses and agricultural producers invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, including solar and small wind projects.
The move, which was introduced by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, came after the House took up the farm bill that passed through committee in May without REAP funding.
In early June, the Senate passed a comprehensive farm bill that included REAP provisions to the tune of $68.2 million in mandatory funding and $20 million in annual funding for fiscal years 2014 through 2018.
There was hope that even if the House bill passed without REAP funding, a version reconciled with the Senate's version in conference would provide for some funding for renewable energy.
The Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC), a clean energy advocacy group that supports REAP funding and other Energy Title programs, was one of the those organizations hoping for a positive outcome from a conference.
‘The Energy Title programs help grow the rural economy by opening access to critical project capital, ensuring that investments continue to be made in agriculture energy development,’ said AgEC Co-Chair Lloyd Ritter in a statement prior to the House vote. ‘These investments in energy efficiency projects and renewable energy systems provide energy security, environmental benefits and economic growth opportunities to the entire United States, including stable, well-paying employment opportunities.’
The organization was just as surprised as most observers by the outcome of the House.
‘Clearly we're disappointed,’ Ritter told Solar Industry after the vote. ‘REAP has been a real boon to the solar sector. We're going to keep pushing the appropriations process to get those programs funded.’
Nevertheless, Ritter says the most likely scenario is for short-term reauthorizations rather than a reworking of the farm bill from scratch. Congress has not passed a farm bill since 2008. Last year, efforts to pass similar legislation failed, with the 2008 version being extended to Sept. 30.