Administration Support for Biofuels is Part of a Bigger Policy Need
Administration Support for Biofuels is Part of a Bigger Policy Need February 4th, 2010 Goto comments Leave a comment President Obama and members of his Biofuels Interagency Working Group are to be applauded for actions announced this week that will reinforce the vital role that biofuels will play in our nation’s energy future. The administration unveiled on Wednesday steps they say will boost the development of biofuels and generate billions of dollars in additional revenue for rural America. As welcome as these decisions are, it is important to note that biofuels are only one part of a larger set of renewable energy and energy efficiency tools that need to be implemented to achieve a clean energy future. Wednesday’s announcements are an integral step toward a comprehensive energy policy that can maximize the contributions offered by U.S. farms, ranches and forestlands to enhance our energy independence, boost our economy and improve our environment. The final rule adopted by EPA this week to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) set in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act correctly recognizes that high-efficiency, first-generation ethanol can, and will continue to, contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. While many in the biofuels industry question the validity of the agency’s use of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC – the clearing of land in other countries to grow crops theoretically displaced in the United States by energy crop production), EPA officials say they enhanced their scientific research to include updated productivity findings. The agency and Administrator Lisa Jackson, a member of the working group, wisely broadened the scope of the research to cover wider spectrum of countries impacted by ILUC (from 40 to 160) and took into account more recent crop yield and land productivity numbers. The agency’s use of updated, and in Jackson’s words, “better” science now establishes that high-efficiency corn ethanol meets the RFS threshold of reducing the level of greenhouse gases emitted by gasoline by more than 20 percent. The latest research also saw an improvement in numbers for soy biodiesel, which now will be able to qualify for the advanced RFS subcategory, biomass-based diesel. Stakeholders also should be encouraged by the administration’s announced intent to revamp its biofuels strategy. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that a framework was being implemented to eliminate the overlap of agencies in charge of various aspects of biofuel development, production and marketing, and promised to remove the logistical, financial and technological challenges faced by the burgeoning biofuels industry. The resulting “Lead Agency” strategy appropriately gives USDA the lead on feedstock production and continuing financing for first-generation biofuels and scaling advanced biofuels. USDA and EPA lead jointly on sustainability and regulatory compliance. And USDA and DOE will lead jointly on the full-scale deployment of commercial facilities. DOE will drive advanced biofuel research. Also among a package of energy-related proposals issued by the White House is a welcome proposal that should reinvigorate USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program and boost funding to matching payments to agriculture and forest land owners and operators for the biomass materials they sell to conversion facilities for the production of heat, power, bio-based products or advanced biofuels. The administration’s demonstrated support for biofuel production is an important signal to investors that solutions from the land provide valuable and sustainable returns. At the same time, the White House and Congress are urged to maintain the momentum of this week’s actions and quickly adopt a comprehensive, long-term energy policy that encompasses the full range of low-carbon and carbon-free energy resources needed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, generate jobs and stimulate the economy, and reduce emissions that threaten our productivity and our ecosystems.