Alexander Offers Amendments to Boost Agricultural Research Funding and Protect Communities

Posted on December 11, 2007

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-TN, speaking on the Senate floor today, proposed two amendments to the Farm Bill that are aimed at preserving the character of residential neighborhoods, investing in important agricultural research and ensuring that the Senate employs environmental common sense. “American taxpayers expect us to get the best ‘bang for our buck’ from investments in energy efficiency,” Alexander said. “As we work to ‘go green,’ we ought to use a little common sense about how we do it.” Alexander’s amendments would: • Provide $74 million in agriculture research funding to land grant colleges and universities, such as the University of Tennessee. • Make clear that the “Small” Wind Tax Credit applies to farms, ranches, and rural small businesses – not residential neighborhoods – while ensuring that the Farm Bill would not preempt state and local laws and regulations regarding wind turbines. Alexander’s university research funding amendment would provide mandatory dollars for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS). The IFAFS program, created in 1998, provides funding for competitively-awarded agriculture research conducted by land grant universities. As an example of the value of the IFAFS program, Alexander cited how these dollars recently helped the University of Arizona begin research that led to the development of non-allergic Latex products from a plant native to the southwestern United States. IFAFS grants also have been used in the past to: • Develop new ways of containing and eliminating Mad Cow disease in herds of cattle. • Develop an engine at the University of Tennessee that burns poultry droppings as a fuel source to produce electricity on farms. Alexander said the cost of including these important research dollars in the Farm Bill would be fully offset by striking a measure to provide tax breaks for land owners who receive payments from electrical utilities for allowing construction on their property of high-voltage electrical transmission towers from renewable sources, including wind energy. “Needed agriculture research is being left unfunded in order to pay for electric power lines,” said Alexander, the only former land grant university president in the Senate. “Electricity transmission costs should be addressed in the energy bill, not the Farm Bill. We shouldn’t be taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from university research that can protect crops and livestock from disease and develop new sources of clean fuel.” To protect neighborhoods and communities, Alexander’s second amendment would clarify that the Small Wind Tax Credit applies to farms and rural businesses, the focus of the Farm Bill, and ensure that the Farm Bill would not preempt state and local laws and regulations regarding zoning, sitting and permitting of wind turbines. Alexander said this could free up federal tax dollars to be spent more efficiently towards the goal of energy independence and ensuring an abundant supply of clean, low-carbon energy. Alexander said the current small wind tax credit in the Farm Bill allots up to $4,000 for the purchase of small wind equipment that can reach up to 120 feet in height – the size of a cell tower or 12-story building. If left unchanged, this credit could have unintended consequences, Alexander said, because there are no limits on who is eligible for this tax credit. “Unless this is fixed, the bill would give $4,000 for your neighbor to put a 120-foot tower in his or her yard,” Alexander said. “That could ruin the character of our neighborhoods.” Alexander said this tax credit would lead to only 12 megawatts of electricity, or about 0.2 percent of the energy from one nuclear reactor and 0.6 percent of the energy from one coal plant. Speaking on the Senate floor, Alexander suggested investing $5 million in energy efficient light bulbs – instead of the “Small” Wind Tax Credit. “The puny amount of electricity produced by these wind turbines is not worth ruining the character of our neighborhoods,” Alexander said. “For the same amount of money we could save eight times the amount of energy by buying efficient light bulbs and giving them to ratepayers. That way you wouldn’t have 12-story towers in your neighbor’s yard paid for by your own tax money.”