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Vilsack talks biofuels in Hawaii, plans to close USDA offices

By Erin Voegele | January 11, 2012

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the Obama Administration’s commitment to renewable energy and the use of biofuels at Pearl Harbor during a speech he made on Jan. 10 at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument’s Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Vilsack was in Hawaii to address farmers and ranchers attending the American Farm Bureau Federations 93rd Annual Meeting, where he spoke about the importance of agriculture to the U.S. economy. According to Vilsack, agriculture is responsible for one in every 12 U.S. jobs.

Regarding the use of biofuels in Hawaii, Vilsack spoke about the partnership USDA has formed with the U.S. Navy to promote the biobased fuels. A Memorandum of Understanding was formed between the two entities in 2010 to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems. He also spoke about the initiative being carried out by the USDA, U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. EPA to invest in companies developing drop-in biofuel solutions for military aviation and marine use. In addition, Vilsack highlighted the Defense Logistics Agency’s recent contract for the single largest biofuel purchase in government history. That contract calls for the purchase of 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in fuels.

The location of the speech was ideal, as the Pearl Harbor naval base became the first Hawaii military marine fleet to use biodiesel in April 2009 when it replaced 20-year-old Department of Navy-operated tour boats with five new boats capable of operating on B100. The new vessels, which are currently fueled with B20, are used to shuttle visitors to and from the USS Arizona Memorial. According to the USDA, the fleet’s goal is to eventually transition to B100. Biodiesel for the operation is sourced from Hawaii-based Pacific Biodiesel Inc.

"Advanced biofuels provide landowners, businesses and communities in Hawaii and throughout the country the opportunity to pursue new energy advancements that create jobs and build a stronger economy," said Vilsack. "By joining with partners like the U.S. Navy, USDA is supporting investments in innovative technologies to help our nation develop renewable energy to out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world."

Information released by the USDA noted that the development of renewable energy is particularly important to Hawaii, as the state current relies on imported fossil fuels to meet more than 90 percent of its energy needs. “Ongoing research and commitment to the development of renewable energy will help lessen this dependence and enable Hawaii to become a model for the production of drop-in fuels for automobiles, jets, tactical vehicles and electrical generators,” said the USDA in a release. “Through the utilization of Hawaii-grown algae, eucalyptus, sweet sorghum, banana grass, jatropha and energy cane, drop-in biofuels can serve as direct replacements or supplements to existing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels, without any changes to existing fuel distribution networks or engines.”

One day prior to his speech in Hawaii, Vilsack presented the country with the USDA’s Blueprint for Strong Service, which outlines measures to streamline the department’s operations and cut costs. As part of the initiative the USDA will close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs nationwide. It will also close seven foreign offices. According to the USDA, many of these offices were either no longer staffed or housed only one or two employees, or were located within 20 miles of other USDA offices. The USDA noted that in some cases technological advances had reduced the need for brick and mortar facilities.

Once fully implemented, changes outlined in the Blueprint for Strong Service are estimated to save approximately $150 million annually initially and more in the future. The planned changes are expected to impact USDA operations at the department’s Washington headquarters, in 46 states, and one U.S. territory. Among the changes are several that will impact components of the USDA that have traditionally been of importance to the biorefining industry. For example, USDA Rural Development, which houses several energy programs, including the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, will close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories. The USDA estimates that approximately 450 Rural Development offices will remain in operation throughout the country. The USDA Agricultural Research Service, which has done extensive work with feedstock development, will close 12 programs at 10 locations. However, more than 240 programs will remain throughout the country.

 

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