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Brent Erickson in Biofuels Digest: It's Past Midnight in America

October 10, 2018
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan used the phrase “It’s Morning in America” as a now famous campaign message to reassure American’s that his economic policies were working. Fast forward nearly 25 years later and it is now past midnight in America – at least for those who contribute to the U.S. biobased economy and rely on key Farm Bill energy titles.

[caption id="attachment_29269" align="alignleft" width="139"] Brent Erickson, BIO's Executive Vice President, Industrial and Environmental[/caption]

As Brent Erickson, BIO's Executive Vice President for the Industrial and Environmental section, explains in an op-ed for Biofuels Digest, because the Farm Bill expired as the calendar turned to October funds for critical Farm Bill energy title programs that many in rural America rely on are now in jeopardy. These programs, representing a drop in the bucket in terms of overall Farm Bill spending, have become substantial sources of federal support for companies at the core of the burgeoning biobased economy – an economy that BIO estimates is valued at $205 billion, generating 1.665 million jobs.

And while the bill’s energy title programs cost little, the positive impacts are real.  Erickson argues that the Senate's version of the Farm Bill energy title should be passed to continue building on the positive gains.

Read the full piece below, or at Biofuels Digest by clicking here.
On September 30th, the 2018 Farm Bill officially expired. And while both chambers of Congress passed their respective bills, the final version of the legislation that supports the agricultural sector in the U.S. is still being negotiated between House and Senate leaders in conference committee. Now it appears efforts to finalize the legislation will be delayed until after the election. If Congress does not pass a new bill by the end of the year, they risk having to go back to the drawing board after a new Congress is sworn in January 3rd– a Congress that could look significantly different.

Because of this, Congress should pass the Senate version of the Farm Bill energy title without delay to ensure funding for these programs so manufacturers – many based in Rural America – can continue strengthening the burgeoning biobased economy.

Over the past year, BIO has been working to improve upon the existing Farm Bill energy title programs and reauthorize them with mandatory funding. Because of our leadership, the Senate Farm Bill energy title expands eligibility to renewable chemicals and biobased products, with mandatory funding. Supporting these technologies is economically sound policy. The U.S. biobased economy has made significant strides due to the Farm Bill energy title. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analysis found that biobased products contributed $393 billion to the U.S. economy, generating 4.223 million jobs. Support for these programs will ensure continued domestic growth of this sector.

One of the key energy title programs is the USDA BioPreferred Program®, which helps establish a market for companies developing renewable chemicals and biobased products by prioritizing the procurement of these products by federal agencies and their contractors. Additionally, the program issues a USDA certified renewable chemical and biobased label – ensuring the product is biobased – to manufacturers across the country, helping companies promote their products to consumers. As a result of BIO’s advocacy, the Senate bill strengthens the program to ensure certification of new renewable chemicals and biobased product processes and technologies, through the application of a biobased mass balance test method. This will increase the use of renewable feedstocks, benefitting the biobased sector and agricultural producers by making more feedstocks available for producers and creating an expanded value-added market.

By helping companies promote their renewable chemicals and biobased products, thus increasing sales, the Farm Bill’s BioPreferred Program supports millions of jobs in the renewable chemicals and biobased products industry across the country and gloablly. According to USDA, in Texas alone, the biobased products industry is valued at more than $6.8 billion and creates more than 88,000 jobs. Therefore, funding of the BioPreferred Program® is essential to generating job growth in the U.S.

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance program is critical to the growth of the biobased economy and is also at risk if the Farm Bill is not finalized before the end of the year. Because of BIO’s advocacy, the Senate version of the program will support companies who are developing first-of-a-kind technologies to produce advanced biofuels, as well as standalone renewable chemicals and biobased manufacturers, by helping these companies secure financing from rural lenders.

Because of BIO’s efforts, more companies with innovative technologies will be able to secure funds through this program for commercial projects across the nation. The program enables companies to meet the increasing consumer demand for cleaner biofuels and greater and safer household and personal care products.

Additionally, BIO continues to advocate for the continued funding of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The program provides matching payments to farmers growing dedicated energy crops to produce biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals. These payments provide certainty to manufacturers that dedicated feedstocks needed to produce bioproducts will be in steady supply. This certainty in the supply chain allows manufacturers to continue producing and developing the biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals that have become pillars of the biobased economy. Because of our efforts the Senate version of the energy title allows algae to qualify under BCAP and helps incentivize the collection of forest residue, helping remove hazardous fuels that lead to forest fires.

Of course, the ability of Congressional leaders to pass the Farm Bill will come down to dollars and cents. However, the bill’s Energy Titles barely represent a drop in the bucket. The Energy Title programs account for less than one-tenth-of-one-percent of total Farm Bill spending. For so much so success for such little funding, reauthorizing these programs with mandatory funding should be a priority, especially considering their minimal burden on the budget.

As Congressional leaders return to Washington post-election, BIO will be working to make sure their primary focus should be to pass a final Farm Bill with the Senate’s version of the energy title as soon as possible. By passing the Senate version, key programs that support the biobased economy, and thus many in rural America, will continue to be funded. If they wait until the new Congress is sworn in we could see a significant delay in reauthorizing the Farm Bill, jeopardizing funding and operation of these programs. Lack of funds for these programs would significantly impact the rapidly growing biobased economy that supports domestic manufacturing, jobs, renewable energy, rural communities, and agricultural producers across the country.