Renewable Energy Programs and the Farm Bill: Status and Issues [November 22, 2011]   [open pdf - 417KB]

"U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) renewable energy programs have been used to incentivize adoption of renewable energy projects including solar, wind, and anaerobic digesters. However, the primary focus of USDA renewable energy programs has been to promote U.S. biofuels production and use--including corn starch-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and soybean-based biodiesel. The 2008 farm bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, P.L. 110-246) built on the 2002 farm bill (Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, P.L. 107-171) as well as previous renewable energy legislation (especially the Energy Policy Act of 2005, P.L. 109-58; and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, P.L. 110-140), but refocused biofuels policy initiatives in favor of non-corn feedstocks, especially cellulosic-based feedstocks, in response to growing concerns about the emerging spillover effects of increasing corn use for ethanol production. Like the 2002 farm bill, the 2008 farm bill contained a distinct energy title (Title IX) that significantly expanded the number and types of programs available to support renewable energy production and use. In addition, new renewable-energy provisions were included in the rural development (Title VI), research (Title VII), livestock (Title XI), and tax (Title XV) titles of the 2008 farm bill. […] Implementation of the farm bill's energy provisions is ongoing. President Obama, in May 2009, directed USDA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to accelerate implementation of renewable energy programs. Notices, proposed rules, and final rules have appeared in the 'Federal Register' soliciting applications for those programs with available funding. The primary energy-related issue for the next farm bill is the expiration at the end of FY2012 and lack of baseline funding going forward for all major energy-related provisions of Title IX. In addition, the appearance of substantial redundancy across renewable energy programs at USDA and DOE, the slow development of the U.S. cellulosic biofuels sector, and concerns about the emerging spillover effects of increasing corn use for ethanol production are issues that are likely to emerge during the next farm bill debate."

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CRS Report for Congress, R41985
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