Vilsack presses on renewable fuels, farm bill

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2013 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reiterated his department's commitment Thursday to helping the growth of the renewable fuel industry as stakeholders anxiously await the EPA's decision on setting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) requirement for 2014.

“I don't know what the EPA is going to do … but we need to be more aggressive on renewable fuels,” Vilsack said. “We need higher blends of ethanol.”

In addition to comments about renewable fuels, Vilsack again expressed his concern about getting a long-term farm bill approved this year.

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Outside a conference sponsored by Politico, Vilsack said there is still an expectation that increasing amounts of ethanol should be produced “because there's a demand.”

“I will continue to focus on what I can control … continued investment in new opportunities for bio-refineries,” Vilsack said. “And continued support to the industry to work around the oil industry so we can create distribution facilities and availability of this fuel at higher blends so people … can use E85.”

The administration, according to a leaked EPA draft rule, is considering a plan to require 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into gasoline next year. Congress initially wrote an 18.15 billion gallon mandate. Conventional corn ethanol would be dropped by 1.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons.

Vilsack said more incentives need to be offered to get gas stations to offer more ethanol pumps, and noted that reliance on foreign oil has decreased in recent years.

Further, he said any impact from increased corn usage for ethanol in terms of food prices has been “minimal at best.” He stressed a correlation between ethanol and job creation and “more stable income for farms.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said while Vilsack cannot force EPA's hand, he should send a stronger message to increase ethanol use. “E85 will get you further per mile than any other fuel,” King said. “It's the best buy on the market.”

On the farm bill, Vilsack reacted to reports that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to keep farm policy legislation and the budget bill separate by saying, “Anyway we can get a farm bill, we need to get a farm bill, so if it is not tying it to the budget or if it is tying it to the budget whatever, but at end of the day, we need a farm bill.”

Vilsack said he has had many producers tell him they are stepping back on plans to buy equipment, expand operations, or start new ventures.

“Because they're just uncertain on what the programs will be,” Vilsack said. “That uncertainty is making it more difficult for the rural economy to recover.”

Vilsack said the lack of a bill is stalling a part of the economy that has been doing well.

He further scoffed at the concept of another extension - even as short as three months to get past the budget and debt ceiling issues. Congress is expected to offer a plan by mid-December to deal with the budget issue and to enact a plan by Jan. 15.

“The reality is if they have the capacity to get the budget done, they obviously have the capacity to get a farm bill done, so there's no need for extension,” Vilsack said. “This is nonsense, absolute nonsense. We've had enough extensions. We can't be kicking the can down the road permanently, we need to make decisions here.”

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