A popular rural energy program meant to lower energy costs while helping farmers and small businesses is facing an uncertain future as Congress continues to debate over proposed spending cuts.
The program, known as the Rural Energy for America Program or REAP, fell victim to Washington politics earlier this summer.
"It is disappointing to see REAP treated as a political football," said Andy Olsen with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
REAP was created back in 2002. It helps farmers and small businesses get grants for energy-saving projects. Olsen was one of its original architects.
"It really provides rural economic development across the country and in every state," he said.
Since 2021, REAP has leveraged more than $1.2 billion in public investment to help lower energy costs, creating more than $3.4 billion in renewable energy projects for rural America. But back in June House Republicans proposed slashing the program by nearly $500 million.
Many projects already in the works are in jeopardy if funding gets cut. Since 2019 the Eastern Shore of Maryland has received more than $270,000 in rural energy grants from REAP.
Republican Rep. Andy Harris represents the district and defended the cuts, telling Scripps News in a statement:
"In a year of President Biden's $1.7 trillion deficit, and a $32 trillion federal debt, programs like REAP should return to pre-pandemic funding levels — and focus on loans, not grants."
Jeff Labenz-Hough with America's Rural Energy Coalition said he hopes the program continues to receive funding because of the economic boost it gives smaller communities for energy development.
"Right now the only thing rural has that urban has any interest in is energy development. You are never going to get anything done unless people pay attention to you, especially in Washington D.C.," he said.
REAP's fate is not totally sealed, though. In early August, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia; Rep. David Valadao, a Republican from California; and Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota reintroduced a Bipartisan version of the bill. The proposal would increase some funding while raising certain grant limits
"You really want to build up places where there's bipartisan interest in renewables and clean energy," Smith told Scripps News in an interview.
In a statement to Scripps News, Valadao vowed to support the program to help rural small businesses and farmers lower energy costs:
"The Rural Energy for America Program helps farmers and small businesses throughout the Central Valley stay alive and competitive in California, where energy is in high demand and extremely expensive. I'll continue working with my colleagues to support and improve this program to make it easier for our rural small businesses and farmers to lower their costs by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency."
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