It’s not every week when members of Congress reach across party lines to form a consensus to benefit the American public, but this week Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural banded together to support a circular farm economy, renewable energy, healthy soils and clean waterways.
With the support of 14 members, including our home state Representatives, Susan DelBene (D) and Dan Newhouse (R), H.R. 5489, the Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Act, was introduced as a way to make it easier for livestock farmers to promote a closed-loop farming cycle by providing a 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) for qualifying biogas and nutrient recovery systems.
It’s long been known that capturing harmful pollutants like methane from animal and food organic waste in an anaerobic digester and converting that methane into biogas creates a local source of baseload clean energy and rural jobs. More recently, though, agricultural scientists have been making great strides in recovering nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from organic waste streams so farmers can apply rich, bacteria-free, post-digestion liquid to their crops while reducing the risk that excess runoff will find its way into watersheds and harm aquatic life. These recovered bio fertilizers can be used as an alternative to expensive, imported chemical fertilizers, making the economics of farming more profitable as well as more sustainable.
Currently, no tax incentive exists for nutrient recovery systems, and only biogas projects that generate electricity are eligible for a production tax credit under Section 45 of the federal tax code. Other energy uses like production of pipeline quality natural gas and compressed renewable natural gas vehicle fuel are omitted, which is a major reason there are only slightly more than 247 anaerobic digesters on farms in the United States (most are dairy digesters) out of 8,241 dairy, poultry and swine farms that could utilize the technology, according to the American Biogas Council. Combined with wastewater treatment and landfill gas plants, industry sources say biogas could power 3.5 million American homes and would reduce emissions the equivalent of removing 11 million passenger vehicles from the road.
H.R. 5489 will be taken up for consideration in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The Chairman of the Committee, Lamar Smith (R-TX), has given no indication yet whether the bill will receive a hearing.