Friday, September 17, 2010

House OKs bills for more veterinarians and rural-home energy upgrades; Senate fate unclear

The U.S. House approved bills yesterday that would provide grants to improve food-animal veterinary services across the country, especially in underserved rural areas, and create a loan program for rural electric cooperatives to encourage customers to retrofit homes with energy-efficiency improvements.

The sponsor of the veterinary bill, Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb, cited a county in Sandhills as an example of the large-animal veterinary shortage facing livestock producers. “In Cherry County, we have 145-thousand livestock animals to every single veterinarian,” Smith said. “That’s a problem—that is obviously a shortage we need to reverse—and this bill will accomplish exactly that.”

"The measure authorizes the USDA to award federal matching funds for programs or activities that will substantially relieve veterinary shortages," Brownfield Network reports. "Some activities that would be eligible include veterinarian and vet staff recruitment and establishment of mobile veterinary clinics. The bill builds on previous legislation which helps veterinarians who elect to practice in underserved areas repay student loans. It now goes to the Senate for consideration."
In May we reported on the energy bill, HR 4785, when it passed the Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee. The so-called "Rural Star" program would "establish a consumer loan program of almost $5 billion for rural electric cooperatives to dole out 'micro loans' to consumers for energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes," Katie Howell of Environment & Energy Daily reports. Improvements would be made to the structure of the home and not to removable components like appliances.

"The bill would authorize Congress to appropriate $993 million to kick-start the loans," Howell writes. "The up-front costs to make energy-efficiency upgrades are often beyond the reach of most consumers," and "consumers often lack the necessary knowledge about what technologies would be the most effective," Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., said.

Republicans took issue with the price tag of the program. Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas "blasted the fact that the loans will affect fewer than 2 million of the 43 million households served by rural cooperatives," Howell writes. The bill's hopes for passage in the Senate are uncertain. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced a similar bill in the Senate, but it has yet to be considered by the Agriculture Committee. (Read more, subscription required)

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