Coalition of Organizations Backs Increased Funding of Agriculture Clean Energy

A letter has been sent to Congress with 34 groups signing on.

Last week a coalition of diverse organizations joined together in calling for Congress to increase funding for USDA Energy title programs along with an expansion of tax incentives that would accelerate renewable electric energy.

On Tuesday, representatives of the 25 x '25 Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, National Association of Wheat Growers and Environmental Law and Policy Center held a conference call with the media to further discuss the collection of recommendations and the points that were made in the letter.

"The proposals outlined in the joint Jan. 6 letter reinforce some of the key priorities and underscore the critical role that USDA and its programs can and will play in promotion of a clean energy future and a robust economy," said Bart Ruth, policy chair for the 25 x '25 Alliance. "The Rural Energy for America Program is already funding new wind, solar, biogas, bioenergy, geothermal and energy efficiency projects in nearly every state in the nation."

Ruth also pointed to the BioEnergy Crop Assistance Program and the Bio-Refinery Assistance Program. He emphasized that these programs that are administered by USDA are operational and are proven and effective, but in many cases are under funded.

"We know that these programs work and can have an immediate impact," Ruth said. "Therefore we are asking for $1.2 billion in supplemental funding for these critical Farm Bill Energy Title programs."

The letter to Congress also requested a five year extension of the federal Production Tax Credits for renewable energy, cellulosic biofuels, and biomass. Also the 34 member coalition encouraged the expansion of successful clean renewable energy and conservation bond programs which provide incentives for electric cooperatives, public power, and municipalities to build new renewable energy facilities and invest in energy efficiency.

"In recent years we've seen a growing groundswell of clean energy projects planned around the country but this economic crisis has stalled many of the projects and they face an uncertain future," said Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "We're seeing more news of layoffs at renewable energy plants. The solutions from this consensus plan help create and maintain jobs in this crucial clean energy sector; not just in construction but also manufacturing, operation maintenance, planning, design and agriculture."

Olsen says the three part plan has remarkably broad support and reflects the overwhelming, bipartisan support for clean energy in America today.

Julie Sibbing of the National Wildlife Federation talked about their top priority of addressing global climate change and global warming and said the only way to get there is by addressing our country's energy needs in a new way. She said we are at a threshold of creating a new clean energy economy, but the economic crisis is taking a toll.

"If we don't free up some money and some loans we could be putting the entire future of this green technology and green tech future on hold for several years," Sibbing said. "Not only sacrificing the immediate jobs that we could be creating this year, but many jobs into the future as these technologies develop and build."

When questioned about the viability of building new plants considering recent drops in oil prices, the representatives said that oil will go back up. They stressed that we must not lose sight of the impetuous for this, not only the price component, but the environmental security, global security and creating new growth for this country, revitalizing the nation's economy.

"We can't afford to be complacent in the face of low oil prices," Olsen said. "We have been on the oil price rollercoaster before and time after time it has delayed progress with developing alternative energy sources."

Olsen also pointed out that the coalition is not only looking at replacing oil but also looking at other energy sources to provide cleaner sources for electrical power as well as energy efficiency, which he called the cheapest, cleanest and fastest way to address energy problems.

"Our focus right now is clearly around agriculture, forestry and clean energy solutions," said Ernie Shay, project coordinator for the 25 x '25 Alliance. "The USDA is a critical player in the evolution of the nation's new energy future and the programs that they administer need to be funded at an appropriate level so we can capitalize on these clean energy opportunities across the country."

To view the coalition's letter to Congress, click HERE.

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