For the third year in a row the Trump Administration’s Presidential Budget Request is calling for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). TCS won’t be sad to see it go.
Congress intended for the program to support the development of advanced renewable energy systems in rural areas, such as geothermal, solar, and wind. But in practice, almost $6 million of the program’s funding went to subsidizing the mature ethanol industry through “energy efficiency” grants and ethanol blender pumps, not to mention questionable expenditures on other special interests. Blender pump subsidies helped gas stations install specialized pumps that can dispense gas higher concentrations of corn ethanol (such as E15 or E85 -blends with 15 percent and 85 percent ethanol that can be used in flex-fuel vehicles). Because USDA circumvented Congressional intent to help the mature corn ethanol industry, TCS awarded then-USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack our infamous Golden Fleece award in July 2015.
REAP was created in the 2002 farm bill and has subsequently received funding in each farm bill since then (2008, 2014, and 2018). Congress prohibited corn ethanol facilities from receiving farm bill energy title subsidies, but that has not stopped USDA from finding special pots of money to keep subsidies flowing to an industry that has already received federal support for more than four full decades. Because the program has veered away from its original intent and supported well-entrenched special interests, it is time for the program to go.