Romney's support of biofuels, bioenergy is too vague

By Erin Voegele | August 23, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a white paper outlining his energy policy this week. In that paper, in order to facilitate private-sector-led development, he said that is would “support increased market penetration and competition among energy sources by maintaining the RFS and eliminating regulatory barriers to a diversification of the electrical grid, fuel system, or vehicle fleet.” The paper also noted he would “ensure that policies for expanding energy development apply broadly to energy sources from oil and gas exploration, to coal mining, to the siting of wind, solar, hydroelectric, and other renewable energy facilities.”

However, the white paper offers no more specific information on Romney’s position regarding the RFS, biofuels, or renewable energy. The energy policy documentation posted to Romney’s website, on the other hand, says the Obama Administration has had “an unhealthy ‘green’ ‘jobs obsession.”

The document actually states the following: “As for job creation, studies show that “green” jobs might actually hurt employment more than they help it. Green energy is capital-intensive and tends to displace labor. Indeed, the track record in Europe shows that new “green” jobs came at a steep cost. Spain’s experience, for example, reveals that each new “green” job created destroyed 2.2 others. The price tag in subsidies was exorbitant, rising to nearly $1.5 million per job in the wind industry. Even steeper job loss ratios can be found in the United Kingdom, where 3.7 jobs were lost for every new “green” job created. Here in the United States, despite the Obama administration’s wishes, the marketplace is simply not absorbing green-collar workers. Of 3,586 recent graduates of a Department of Labor-sponsored “green” jobs training program, only 466 were able to find jobs. Taxpayer money spent on “green” training, it seems, was wasted.” As an alternative, Romney touts the job opportunities associated with the fossil fuel sector.

However, green jobs are exactly what our industry creates. The rapidly expanding advanced and cellulosic biofuel, biochemical, bioplastic, biomass, biogas and biopower sectors are testament to the fact that the alternative energy sector can—and does—create jobs of many kinds, from highly-skilled research and executive positions, to construction and transportation jobs.

It’s still early in the presidential race. Hopefully Romney will take stronger, more specific positions that will support the bioenergy sector. But considering his position on green jobs, I’m not going to hold my breath.

As disclaimer, I certainly can’t speak for our entire industry—or Biomass Magazine for that matter.  However, I can and will share my personal opinion of this matter.

In my personal opinion, it’s going to be highly difficult, if not politically impossible, for a potential Romney administration to even come close to offering the same level of support to the biofuel/biopower/bioproduct sector that the Obama administration has.

The reason I believe this is simple.

Obama has assembled somewhat of a “bioenergy dream team.” The individuals he selected to lead the USDA, DOE, EPA and Navy are unparalleled in their support of alternative, renewable energy development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is a long-time supporter of the biofuels industry and rural economic development. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has been a fantastic advocate for the development of sustainable, domestic energy sources. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus had been a steadfast supporter of renewable energy and biofuels, and has articulated to our lawmakers over and over again why alternative energy is so important to our national security. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has stood up for the RFS program again and again as it’s been attacked politically by lawmakers, big oil and special interest groups.

In my opinion, a huge portion of the progress made by the bioenergy sector over the past years can be credited to this administration and their leadership. If our industry is going to reach its full potential, we are going to need that support to continue.