Ag Policy Blog

Vilsack: Obama Administration Backs Biofuels

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging biofuel supporters to consider all of the various ways the Obama administration has aided the industry when EPA comes out with its Renewable Fuels Standard volume obligations.

EPA officials are expected to release the required biofuel volumes for 2014-16 on Monday, the last day set in a lawsuit agreement with the petroleum industry. The agency is expected to come in somewhere between the figures laid out in the 2007 law and the volumes proposed by EPA in 2013 that cut future blend volumes for corn-based ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol.

Vilsack said in an interview Friday with DTN/The Progressive Farmer that he did not know the EPA's final figures. But Vilsack called on biofuel supporters to temper their response if the final blend volumes are below those in the statute.

"I would only hope regardless of what the numbers are, and I don't know what those numbers are going to be, but regardless of the numbers I would hope everybody understands this administration has been extraordinarily supportive of the biofuels industry," he said. "When you take a look at the totality of the things we have done. We're going to continue to be supportive, but I would hope people would be appreciative of what's been done."

The secretary pointed to investments made in areas such as biomass research centers, a total of $320 million spent in research activities, funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the advanced biofuel producer grant program and work in the Department of Defense to buy biofuels for the Navy and create a drop-in aviation fuel.

"When you look at all of those activities, it's pretty hard to make the case that this administration doesn't support the biofuels industry," he said.

The Renewable Fuels Association criticized the Obama administration in a report released earlier this month questioning why the White House is not championing greenhouse-gas emission reductions made through biofuels as part of the U.S. commitment made for the Paris climate talks. Specifically, the ethanol group questioned, "Why is the President ignoring America's most successful climate policy?" The RFS and biofuels don't factor into the U.S. actions committed to the climate agreement, even though nearly 30 other countries include biofuels in their major submissions.

Vilsack disagreed with the suggestion that the U.S. is ignoring the contributions of biofuels. He points to USDA's ten building blocks on climate, which includes a focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency and generation from renewable resources, he said. Biofuels "may not have been given a headline or its own separate section, but it is certainly included in the ten building blocks we've created at USDA," he said.

"It would be incorrect to suggest biofuels are not part of the U.S. program," he said. "Perhaps people should be paying more attention to what we are doing at USDA before they are overly critical," he said.

Other countries could have a greater sensitivity to biofuels because of accusations over cutting down rain forests to produce biofuels. "They may be more sensitive to it than we need to be," Vilsack said.

"Frankly, everyone connected with the biofuels world, booth those who think it's great and those who think it's not, have a tendency to be very sensitive and not to understand, at least from this administration's perspective, the totality of the activity in the biofuels space that's going on," Vilsack said.

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