Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: June 14, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I want to spend a few moments talking about one of our job-creating titles in the farm bill, but first I want to thank colleagues who are continuing to work on this bill. As we continue to do the business of the Senate, they are working through the amendment process and coming together with what I am optimistic will be an agreement for us to be able to move forward so we can complete our task on the farm bill.

I thank the ranking member of the committee, Senator Roberts, for his leadership and his staff and my staff for working so hard together. There has been a lot of coffee involved for folks to be able to stay awake on some late nights right now. They are doing a great job, and we are very optimistic as we move forward in this process.

One of the reasons we need to get this done, as I have stressed many times but it bears repeating, is this is a jobs bill. As the distinguished Presiding Officer from Ohio knows--as well as myself, coming from Michigan--jobs are a big deal. Jobs are a big deal across the country, but we have been in the middle of it in terms of the recession. We are now seeing optimism because we are recommitting ourselves to making things and growing things in this country.

We make a lot of great things in Michigan, not the least of which is automobiles, but a lot of other things also. I know Ohio, as well, is a great State for making things. Both of our States are also States where we grow things, and I appreciate the leadership of the Presiding Officer who is on our Agriculture Committee and has played a very significant role in getting us to this point. The distinguished Presiding Officer, Senator Brown, has helped with major reforms in this bill. He has put forward a bipartisan proposal that relates to moving a risk-based system to support our farmers. I appreciate very much the Senator's leadership on that as well as a number of other things.

But this is about growing things. Almost one out of four people in Michigan has a job because we grow things. We have more diversity of crops than any State, with the exception of California, and so that means every page of the farm bill matters to Michigan, which is why over the years I have paid attention to every single page of the farm bill.

Overall in our country 16 million people work because of agriculture. They may be involved in production, they may be involved in packaging, they may be involved in processing, they may make the farm equipment, or they may be involved in a variety of things, but they work because we grow things in America. Our one area of huge trade surplus, and where we have grown in the last 2 years by 270 percent, is in agriculture. We are creating jobs here and exporting, and so this is a jobs bill.

I want to talk specifically about a very important piece where we bring together making things and growing things in our economy, and that is the energy title of the farm bill. The energy title reflects the important work being done by America's farmers, ranchers, forest managers, and rural small businesses to help improve our energy security.

Since we added this title in the 2002 farm bill--I was pleased to be a strong supporter in doing that--the Rural Energy for America Program has helped put in place nearly 8,000 projects and jobs that have helped farmers lower their energy bills and actually produce electricity that goes back to the electric grid. In the last 10 years, we have seen incredible advances in advanced biofuels and biobased manufacturing, which is the ultimate way to bring together making things and growing things, both of which are supported and strengthened in this bill.

The farm bill is also an energy bill and it is a jobs bill. There are more than 3,000 companies doing innovative, biobased manufacturing, and using agricultural products instead of petroleum to manufacture finished products. Those companies have already created over 100,000 jobs and are growing every day. Many of these businesses are in rural communities, and supporting those businesses is one of the best ways we can create jobs and economic growth in small towns all across our country.

This kind of manufacturing is also a win-win for the farmers. They get new markets for their products and, in some cases, markets for their waste products.

We have also seen tremendous growth in biofuels. This farm bill shifts our focus to the next generation of advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, to continue lowering prices for families at the pump. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa, ethanol has already helped keep gas prices more than $1 lower than they otherwise would be. It is the only competition we have at the moment at the pump. As a consumer, what we need is more choice and more competition so that depending on foreign oil is not the only choice.

Many of our colleagues have different feelings about our energy policies, and the great thing about the farm bill is that it doesn't matter what we believe or where we come from, it is a winner because it creates choices. If we want to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, this bill is a winner. If we want to make America more energy independent so we are not relying so much on foreign oil, this bill is a winner. If we want farmers to pay lower energy bills so they have more money to hire workers and improve their business, this bill is a winner. And if we want Americans to pay lower prices at the gas pump, as we all do, this bill is a winner for every American.

I especially want to thank Senators CONRAD, LUGAR, HARKIN, BEN NELSON, BENNET, BROWN, KLOBUCHAR, THUNE, CASEY, and HOEVEN, who worked very hard at putting together the energy title and the necessary funding to continue supporting these innovative farmers and businesses all across our country. I appreciate their leadership in working with us and being able to get this done.

I want to talk about some of the specific areas we have in the energy title. There is something called the Rural Energy for America Program, also known as REAP. It is one of the most successful programs in the energy title, and one we hear about most often from farmers and ranchers across the country.

This program helps farmers with loan guarantees and grants to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency upgrades. Farmers have been able to put solar panels, wind turbines, as well as biomass energy and geothermal and hydroelectric and other forms of renewable energy technology on the farm. Since 2003, REAP has supported 7,997 different energy-efficient projects that have generated or saved 6.5 million megawatt hours, which is enough power to meet the annual needs of nearly 600,000 households.

As a caveat, I also want to say that when we talk about all of these alternatives, I also see this from the standpoint of making things. When we look at a big wind turbine, a lot of folks see energy use. I see 8,000 parts. We can make every one of them in Michigan and probably an awful lot of them in Ohio. So when we talk about creating energy efficiency opportunities, we are also talking about creating manufacturing jobs in the process.

REAP is a big success story, which is why we continued the program and streamlined the application process for farmers and small businesses applying for small and medium-sized projects.

Each project funded by REAP can make a significant impact, as I said, on utility costs incurred by the businesses. For example, one company in Georgia created an on-farm solar system that will produce about 60,000 kilowatt hours per year to lower the company's power bills. Another Kentucky company used an energy efficiency grant to improve lighting and support a refrigeration/freezer project that would give them 63 percent energy savings--63 percent. That is a pretty big deal when we are paying the bills.

The next part I want to talk about is something called biobased markets and part of a larger biobased manufacturing effort that I am very enthused about. Biobased manufacturing is rapidly becoming a critical component of our new economy. According to USDA, there are 3,118 registered biobased companies in the United States that have so far created about 100,000 jobs, and growing. With customers demanding more choices, oil prices rising, these innovative companies are taking new approaches, turning agricultural products into manufactured products. So as we can see, all across the country there are 3,000 companies. This is a huge area that is growing, the innovation process, where we are literally taking agricultural products and replacing chemicals, replacing petroleum and plastics, and doing a variety of things that allow us to create new markets for farmers, get us off of foreign oil, and create jobs. I would argue that in the next 5 years we will see many, many, many more dots on this map as a result of the farm bill and private sector efforts that are going on across the country.

In the 2008 farm bill, we created the biobased program to develop and expand markets for these biobased products. Here are a few examples: Papermate makes a biodegradable, retractable grip pen manufactured by Sanford Newell Rubbermaid in Georgia. This pen is made from biodegradable components that include an exclusive corn-based material to produce less waste and more compost.

Purell Advanced Green Certified Instant Hand Sanitizer is a green-certified product made by a company in Ohio, containing ingredients from renewable resources. It kills more than 99.9 percent of most germs. It is a product that is biodegradable.

Greenware Cold Portion Cups made by Fabri-Kal Corporation in Michigan are made from materials such as plant-based and post-consumer recycled resins. My colleagues will note that this looks familiar because it is the same kind of cup we use in the Senate. This is something we are using and thereby supporting the biobased economy.

By including biobased manufacturing in the Biorefinery Assistance Program within the energy title, we are expanding economic opportunities for farmers by giving them new markets for crops to grow and we are supporting cutting-edge manufacturing businesses that are making these products and creating these jobs.

We also have done other pieces that will strengthen this effort. I might mention, though we don't have a picture of it with us on a chart, one of the exciting things I am seeing in Michigan, as we bring together making things and growing things, is the extent to which our automakers are using biobased products in the making of automobiles. So for anyone who is buying a new Ford vehicle today--I sound like an advertisement--but a new Ford vehicle or a great new Chevy Volt or a number of new great American-made vehicles we have today, we are sitting on seats made from soy-based foam. We have soybean in the seats. Soy-based foam was actually started over 80 years ago with Henry Ford and has been something we have focused on, on and off, for 80 years. But now it has become a major effort. A major company in Michigan called Lear is making these seats. They are biodegradable. They are lightweight. We get better fuel economy. And as I often tell my friends, if you get hungry, you get something to munch on.

So the truth is we are seeing huge advances. One may very well have cupholders in their car that have a corn-based or wheat-based or other kind of agricultural-based product in the plastic, rather than petroleum--another way to get off of foreign oil. They are experimenting with tires, rather than using petroleum in tires. I think there is an explosion here of opportunity for innovation with our farmers and our manufacturers, with our universities, our scientists. It is very exciting, and it is part of the next generation for us of a new economy and new jobs. This farm bill strengthens that effort, working with the private sector, to help us rapidly move forward on jobs.

One of the other ways we support efforts to create and then the commercialization of products, to be able to move forward as it relates to creating, producing more products and so on, is to give consumers a way to find these products. So we have something called the USDA Certified Biobased Product label.

The mission of the BioPreferred Program is to develop and expand markets for biobased products through preferred Federal purchases of biobased products across the Federal Government and a voluntary labeling program to raise consumers' awareness and to help make sure we know that what we are buying is, in fact, a biobased product. Since the program was created in the last farm bill in 2008, there are now 64 different categories of biobased products and almost 9,000 products--9,000 products--approved for preferred Federal purchases. It is in everybody's best interests for us to be encouraging these new markets, encouraging innovation, and at the same time addressing other critical needs for our country, including getting off of foreign oil. In addition, another 430 products from 150 companies have been certified to carry the USDA Certified Biobased Product label. So this is important. And there are new efforts happening. The President, the Secretary of Agriculture, and I have come together to urge, in fact, that we increase the amount of biobased labeling that is going on and make sure that consumers are looking for this label.

We then have the Biorefinery Assistance Program which is a very important piece of all of this. The Biorefinery Assistance Program was originally created in the 2002 farm bill to support the development and construction of demonstration-scale biorefineries to determine the commercial viability of some of the processes that are involved in converting renewable biomass to advanced biofuels. It also guarantees loans for companies that are developing, constructing, or retrofitting commercial-scale biorefineries using these new technologies. In the last 2 years, companies participating in this effort have created nearly 300 direct jobs, and it is estimated that as this program is written into the 2012 farm bill, it will help these innovative businesses hire another 450 people as well.

We also expand eligibility for the program to include biobased manufacturing. This is a very important piece of this bill. We are now going from refineries, talking about advanced biofuels, to expanding the opportunity for tools for our biobased manufacturers within the rubric of the energy title and the focus on jobs.

We are talking about loan guarantees for companies to leverage private dollars. So for just over $400 million in loan guarantees, we have leveraged $1.5 billion in private dollars to help companies with the cost of retrofitting and building new commercial biofuels plants. When operational, these facilities are expected to produce 113 million gallons of advanced biofuels and generate almost 25 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide which, by the way, is the equivalent of taking 11,000 cars off the road. I have a little bit of a mixed feeling about that. Actually, we would much prefer to do it this way and keep great new advanced vehicles on the road.

In 2011, the USDA awarded $6.9 million in grants and $13.1 million in loan guarantees to 17 anaerobic digester projects--here we are talking about waste on the farm and turning it into energy--which will create enough energy to power 10,000 homes.

There are so many opportunities for us, whether it is animal waste, food waste. We have a facility in Michigan that will be opening in the fall that is up by Gerber Baby Food. We are the international home of Gerber Baby Food in Fremont, MI. There is a new biobased facility opening that will use all the food waste to generate energy--electricity--for the northwestern area of Michigan. There are so many opportunities for us right now, using, again, food waste, byproducts from agriculture, and so on, where we can blend those together and create jobs and get us off of foreign oil.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program has helped build seven first-of-their-kind biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in States from Florida to Oregon, Michigan to New Mexico. One of the companies, called INEOS New Plant Bioenergy, has just begun commissioning their plant in Indian River County, FL, which will use citrus and other municipal solid waste to produce 8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol every year and 6 megawatts of renewable electricity. They have over 100 people working on the job, completing this first-of-a-kind plant, using 85 percent U.S.-manufactured equipment, by the way, for the facility.

There is so much. I could spend a long time going through all of the exciting efforts going on, literally from the east coast to the west coast, North and South, where creative entrepreneurs are coming forward, with support from the USDA to be able to get them through what is often called the valley of death, as they have a great idea but are trying to get it to commercialization, and efforts that are leveraging private dollars and public dollars to be able to have these companies move forward into full commercialization. Then they can create jobs, create renewable energy, get us off of foreign oil or create other kinds of products--all kinds of opportunities for us around products.

That leads me to another important piece, which is R&D, which is always a very important part of what needs to be done as we are looking at these new ideas. Entrepreneurs, companies large and small, many small businesses--in fact, most of them start as small businesses with a great idea, and they are looking for how to turn that into a great business, and hiring people, and so on. The Biomass Research and Development Initiative is an integral component to bridging the gap between technology development and commercialization. As I said, this is often called the valley of death. If you are somebody out there who is an entrepreneur with a great idea, how do you actually convince somebody to invest in it so you can move forward? Nearly $133 million in grants was provided through the research and development effort from 2003 to 2010 and they helped leverage $61 million in private investment.

One of the great success stories among many comes out of Wisconsin. We heard about this during one of our farm bill hearings when Lee Edwards, CEO of Virent Energy, came in to tell us about the great work his company is doing. They were awarded a grant as seed money to develop their technology with the University of Wisconsin. Virent now has over 120 employees and plans to expand again after receiving a contract from Coca-Cola to develop a 100-percent plant-based bottle for its carbonated beverages.

Virent's technology is feedstock-neutral and produces drop-in jet fuel and renewable chemicals. Their corporate partners include Cargill, Coca-Cola, and Shell.

We also have the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which helps farmers and ranchers who want to plant energy crops for biomass that would be converted to biofuels or bioenergy. In 2011, this program supported between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs.

Our investment in the BCAP could result in companies hiring--in this farm bill, we are told--between 2,000 and 2,600 additional new employees. We have also addressed issues around collection, harvest, storage, and transport to address problems that had occurred in the last farm bill.

This program provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and nonindustrial private forest land as well. I have not talked a lot about forest land, but certainly biomass efforts--what has been done around forest by-products--are very important as well.

Steve Flick of Show Me Energy received the first BCAP project area, covering approximately 50,000 acres in 38 counties in Missouri and Kansas. Individual farmers within the boundaries of the project area can now sign contracts with the USDA to grow dedicated energy crops. This is another provision we have in the bill. Show Me's plant in Centerview currently pelletizes crops into biomass fuel for space heat and electric power. This technology will eventually provide liquid fuels that can replace gasoline and diesel. Steve Flick also testified at our hearing in February.

I could go on and on with examples. We have a very exciting project I visited not long ago in Alpena, MI, in the northeastern part of the State, which is a plant working with a paneling company that makes decorative panels, doing beautiful paneling work with 100-percent wood paneling. They are now taking what used to be waste that they sent to a waste treatment facility and pumping it right next door to a new company that is creating cellulosic ethanol. And they are now looking for other products. One of them will be a new green biodegradable effort to de-ice runways. So there are all kinds of possibilities.

What I am excited about is that this farm bill is focused on small businesses, farmers, ranchers, working with the forestry industry. How do we grow the economy by taking the two great strengths that have created the middle class of this country--growing things and making things? That is what this title is about; that is what this bill is about.

I am anxious to get us through this process so we can complete this bill and get on to the next generation of jobs.


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