Opening Statement: Ranking Member Austin Scott Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Public Hearing: “On-Farm Energy Production: Impacts on Farm Income and Rural Communities”
Washington, July 23, 2020
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s hearing to review on-farm energy production. I believe this hearing is timely given the current discussions taking place on the future of U.S. energy policy and the future of U.S. agriculture.
Recently, the majority staff of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report which details recommended congressional action needed to meet a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy wide by no later than 2050.
Many of the recommendations focus on reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuels and not enough on emissions, in other words, if we could move from diesel to natural gas, that certainly is a benefit to the environment. The focus on emissions would be more productive than the focus on simply eliminating fossil fuels. Specifically, the report outlines principles for a federal carbon price which is a direct tax on businesses and consumers.
I want to make this clear: I believe that we can, and should, do a better job of taking care of the environment. In taking care of the environment, we have to acknowledge that the habitat is important to the wildlife of this country.
I am prepared to work in a bipartisan manner to improve upon current programs and find new solutions, however, I will not support an extreme climate agenda that fails to consider that rural Americans will have to shoulder the burden of these staff proposals.
Many of these proposals aim to uproot the basic underpinnings of our farming, manufacturing, energy, and transportation systems, and require changes of marginal or unknown benefit that would have significant implications for the profitability of U.S. agriculture and the U.S. economy. The report recognizes this glaring consequence and makes several recommendations for funding “economic transition payments.” In other words, the report authors know that there are harmful consequences to their proposals, and rather than develop better, more thoughtful proposals in a bipartisan nature, they continue to recommend federal overreach and dismantling of strong businesses and agricultural communities.
Many of the agriculture recommendations do highlight the benefits that farm bill programs play in assisting farmers, ranchers, and foresters in being the best stewards of the land. However, some of their recommendations also uncover their hidden agenda – increased compliance and government control of our producers’ land and livelihoods.
This is in direct conflict with the bipartisan principle that on-farm stewardship should be locally led, voluntary, and incentive based. The 2018 Farm Bill has voluntary farm bill programs that help farmers implement new practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions, and adopt more energy-efficient farming practices.
One of these programs proven to be effective is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has adopted anaerobic digesters as a conservation practice and provides cost share assistance to producers. This allows farmers and ranchers to voluntarily implement this innovative on-farm energy production practice by receiving financial and technical assistance through EQIP.
Another important program in the farm bill is the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy development through grants and guaranteed loans. Grants may be used to finance energy audits or for renewable energy technical assistance and site assessments while the guaranteed loans may be used for construction of renewable energy systems like anaerobic digesters, wind turbines, or solar panels.
As mentioned before, making these improvements on the farm can produce a variety of benefits for farmers and ranchers. For example, using an anaerobic digester turns waste into energy which can then be used for several purposes including generating electricity to help run the farm, processing it further into higher quality fuels, or even sold into the local power grid. These improvements allow farmers and ranchers to reduce input costs needed to operate their farms and can even help increase income.
While it is easy to talk about the benefits on-farm energy production can have for farmers and ranchers, I would be remiss if I did not mention barriers to entry. There are generally high costs to build the infrastructure needed for on-farm energy production. While farm bill programs help cover some of the costs involved, many farmers and ranchers do not have the ability to take on these additional upfront costs to make on-farm improvements due to the current state of the farm economy.
We have a great panel of witnesses here that have extensive knowledge of on-farm energy production, and I would like to thank them for joining us here today. I am looking forward to a productive discussion on what we can do to improve access to these programs.