The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to defund the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) as part of the agriculture appropriation bill (H.R. 2112) for fiscal year 2012.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture created BCAP in 2009 to encourage the use of otherwise wasted biomass materials for energy production. The program included two components: (1) matching payments to entities that harvest and sell forest and agriculture waste to biomass power plants and biorefineries, and (2) payments to farmers to establish new crops grown specifically for energy production.

After experiencing problems with the initial implementation of the matching payments component, the USDA reintroduced the program in October 2010 with new regulations that addressed concerns articulated by various stakeholders. Among other things, the new regulations included requirements to ensure that biomass materials were collected and harvested through sustainable forestry and agronomic practices. The proposed defunding comes at a time when the USDA has had little opportunity to implement the new rules it views to be more effective.

Defunding BCAP could significantly affect the availability of biomass material for energy utilization. It would also eliminate an incentive for private industry to help improve forest health and reduce wildfire risks through forest residue removal for energy usage.