Water and Energy Provisions to Be Discussed in Farm Bill Conference

Farm bill conferees held their first public meeting on October 30. The agenda for this meeting of conferees will include opening statements and discussion of H.R. 2642, The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

In the water supply area, the U.S. Senate bill would reauthorize the water and wastewater revolving loan fund at $30 million, subject to annual appropriations. The House of Representatives would stop funding authorization for the program. The House bill would also reduce from $30 million to $15 million the rural water and wastewater grant program. The Senate would not change the grant funding level but would prioritize funds to rural communities of 5500 or fewer residents.

Overall, the House bill would encourage a greater role for private and cooperative lenders de-emphasizing federal government funding support. The House bill reauthorizes the household water well financing program at $5 million while the Senate version has no comparable provision. The Senate version would authorize rural water and wastewater technical assistance and training grants for fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2018. The House bill has no similar provision.

On the energy front, both the House and Senate bills would reauthorize the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). This program has funded geothermal heat pump systems for rural small business and agricultural producers. The House bill would authorize appropriators to provide up to $45 million annually for REAP. In the Senate bill, REAP would receive an assured $68.2 million annually in mandatory spending and Congressional members could decide to add up to $20 million more through annual funding bills.

The Congressional Research Service report provides a table comparing current law, the Senate, and House versions of the Farm bill.