Franken: Farm Bill Could Help Northland Biomass Projects
Posted at: 06/13/2012 6:04 PM
| Updated at: 06/13/2012 11:16 PM
By: Jon Ellis
Northeastern Minnesota may not be known as farm country, but Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) says the Northland could benefit from the new farm and food bill.
The U.S. Senate is debating the bill this week. Franken wants to add loan guarantees for renewable energy projects to the bill, which he says could benefit biomass projects here in the Northland.
"What this program does is provide loan guarantees for renewable energy projects," Franken said. "The northeast, because of our woody biomass, is a perfect place for that, and also energy efficient programs, projects, provides them grants and loan guarantees."
The provision would create or expand funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Water/Wastewater Backlog programs, and the Rural Energy Savings Program.
Franken also says he's sympathetic to a proposed amendment that would cap farm subsidies, but hasn't decided whether to support it.
Senate rejects effort to cut food stamp program
The Senate has turned back an effort by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to drastically cut food stamp spending and replace the food aid program with block grants to the states.
The 65-33 vote to defeat the Paul amendment was part of debate on a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, makes up about $80 billion of the $100 billion a year cost of the farm bill, providing aid to some 46 million people.
The farm bill would reduce food stamp spending by $4 billion over the next decade by eliminating abuses. Paul's amendment would have saved $322 billion over the same period by capping spending at $45 billion a year and turning over funding decisions to the states.
Senate rejects changes in sugar policy
Senators debating a five-year farm bill have voted to uphold current policy that protects the nation's sugar growers with price supports and import restrictions.
The vote was 50-46 to block an amendment to end the Depression-era program that benefits about 5,000 beet and sugar cane growers.
The farm bill, while ending some subsidies such as direct payments to farmers, leaves the sugar program intact. Those backing changes said the program keeps sugar prices nearly twice world averages, costing businesses and consumers some $3.5 billion a year.
But Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Agriculture Committee chair, said it creates a stable marketplace for American producers at no price to taxpayers.
Growers support the existing program while food and beverage companies that use sugar oppose it.
Farm bill divides Midwestern and Southern farmers
For once, it's not Democrats battling Republicans. The five-year farm and food stamps bill now being debated in the Senate is a regional fight, pitting rice and peanut growers in the South against corn producers and soybean farmers in the Midwest.
The half-trillion-dollar bill setting future farm policy outlines dramatic changes in how farmers are protected from financial and natural disasters. It would end $5 billion a year in direct payments made to farmers whether or not they actually plant a crop.
But as with all big changes, there are winners and losers, and Southern rice and peanut growers see themselves as the losers. This regional divide is one of the major obstacles to getting a farm bill through Congress before the current law expires at the end of September.
(Copyright 2012 WDIO-TV, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)