Renewables Fight Underway in Washington

By Michael McAdams | July 03, 2012

In columns I have authored during the last two years, I have described the increased challenges facing the advanced biofuels industry.  Today, I welcome the opportunity to now share with you the political, legislative and regulatory landscape we face in Washington; the challenges, opportunities and achievements of our industry, and to a greater degree, the renewable energy sector.  Usually I like to take a closer look at a particular issue, whether that’s tax policy, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or even the challenges facing the renewable fuel standard (RFS).  But this past month in Washington could best be described as an avalanche, on all fronts, against all biofuels.

Let’s start with the recently announced program from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. DOE and the USDA. Folks, this is the first year the government was attempting to prudently invest $510 million federal dollars over the next three years from the Defense Production Act to assist, on a match basis, with the building of new plants to manufacture drop-in renewable fuels for use by America’s Armed Forces. The avalanche I mentioned began as the House Armed Services Committee, by a vote of 32 to 29, placed a measure into play that requires the Pentagon’s purchase of advanced biofuels to be at parity cost with existing fuels.  That action can’t be mistaken for anything else but an unreasonable hurdle in the road to further developing and commercializing advanced biofuels.

The action continued in the House Appropriations Committee, where the majority removed any money for use by the DOE and DOD through the DPA.  Though following significant assistance from the White House, their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol in the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to keep full funding of the DOE’s component.  Now we await the full Senate Appropriations Committee vote on the DOD portion, which as of press time appears to be intact, despite substantial efforts to remove it.

With all of the legislative maneuvering that potentially could delay our future commercial success, we had some encouraging action as lawmakers agreed on the funding of the energy title in the Senate Agriculture Committee, to the tune of $800 million for BCAP and other elements for biofuels in the Farm Bill.  Though a handful of amendments would have  discontinued the energy title and the entire RFS, the Senate voted against them and the Farm Bill was passed with our renewables programs unscathed. Now it's a waiting game, as the energy title must survive the House. 

Through all of this there is good news, as a significant number of entities from the airline industry, the environment community, the U.S. Farm Bureau, the military establishment and the biofuels industry, to name just a few, have circled the wagons and worked together like no other point in our history. We can all see the potential leadership position the U.S. has before it; our nation could once again be an industry-changing innovator that the rest of the world would follow. Developing renewable energy alternatives is an inevitable part of our shared global future, and America should help lead the way, not turn its back on it.  Time for us all to get to work.

Author: Michael McAdams
President, Advanced Biofuels Association