Obama administration outlines biofuels agenda

By Erin Voegele
Web exclusive posted May 5, 2009, at 12:45 p.m. CST

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson held a joint press conference May 5 to announce the development of an interagency working group that has been formed at the request of President Barack Obama to expedite advanced biofuels research and commercialization.

The interagency working group, which will include members of the USDA, DOE and EPA, will evaluate roadblocks to the continued development of biofuels, and determine ways in which they can be reduced or eliminated. "What the President is suggesting is the need for integration within these departments, and then further coordination within the industry," Vilsack said. "I suspect that the interagency working group will learn a lot about these rules, regulations, concerns and barriers. We'll work with our colleagues in other agencies of government to try to reduce those." Members of the working group will work with members of the biofuels industry to restructure previous investments, expand the use of flexible-fuel vehicles, and coordinate compatible infrastructure with the goal of expanding the use and availability of biofuels.

The president has also requested that the USDA begin to implement Farm Bill programs to aid in the development of advanced biofuels within the next 30 days. This includes more than $1.1 billion in funding to support the development of advanced biorefineries, assist existing facilities to convert from fossil fuel use to renewable power use, and create opportunities for producers to receive assistance to produce new cellulosic crops. "He has also asked us to immediately take our credit programs and see if there are ways in which we can assist existing facilities who are currently stressed to restructure their investments and their financing in a way that gives them additional time to get through these difficult times," Vilsack said.

During the press conference, Jackson also announced that EPA's proposed rulemaking for the second stage of the renewable fuel standard as enacted by the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 (RFS2) will be released later today. According to Jackson, the law calls for indirect land use to be part of the analysis. She also said that EPA is soliciting peer reviewed scientific feedback to ensure that the finalized rule reflects the best available science. Specific areas of review, she said, will include a peer review of the satellite data that is used to project future land-use changes, land conversion greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions factors, the estimates of GHG emissions from foreign crops, the methods to account for variable timing of GHG emissions, and how the various models are used together to provide overall lifecycle GHG estimates.

Although Chu acknowledged that the ultimate goal is to transition away from corn ethanol, it was noted that corn ethanol is an extraordinarily important bridge necessary for the development of next-generation biofuels. According to Jackson, the proposed rule currently shows that corn ethanol is 16 percent better than gasoline in respect to life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.