Vilsack shares commitment to RFS with advanced biofuels industry

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2012 -Agriculture Secretary Vilsack lauded the benefits of the Renewable Fuels Standard during the 2012 Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference Tuesday, where biofuel industry leaders are gathering in Washington, DC this week.

Vilsack, recognized as an “MVP” for the biofuels industry by conference leaders, cited benefits to farm income, jobs, consumer choice, reduction of reliance on foreign oil and environmental health as reasons for supporting the industry. He said one of his main concerns for the bioenergy industry is “the viability and continued commitment to RFS.”

“Make no mistake, there are those that would like to alter, adjust and maybe do away with it,” he said. “But the lynchpin for this industry is the RFS.”

The RFS program, created under the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005, established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the RFS program expanded to increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

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National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe said if the expanded program, RFS2, is opened up for amendments, “it's unlikely it would be improved” in this Congress.

“Right now the cornerstone of stable policy for biofuels is the RFS2,” Jobe said. “If you're in biofuel, the RFS2 is going to be your lifeblood.”

Opponents of the standard argue that since its implementation, corn prices have tripled as a result of one third of the U.S. crop being diverted from feed use to fuel use. Both Republican and Democrat platforms agree the nation needs more domestic fuel production, but the RFS2 mandate seems to have caused splits along party lines.

Several GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation that would alter the standard. For example, the Renewable Fuel Standard Flexibility Act, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would partially waive the renewable fuel standard when corn inventories are low. Legislation led by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, the Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2012, would  allow ethanol “produced from domestic fossil fuels other than petroleum” to qualify under the RFS2.

Myriant CEO Stephen Gatto said during the conference that while the RFS provides the biofuels industry a great opportunity, the key for success will be commercialization. He said cellulosic ethanol and other bio-based products not grown for food are needed to meet the RFS2 requirements, but private companies are struggling to break through the market.

“I believe the opportunities to build biorefineries with multiple products in the same facility will become the basis of our future,” he said. “Yet with all the developing markets, the road to commercialization is a difficult one to navigate.”

However, Gatto is optimistic that “we are witnessing a shift toward a bio-based economy, adding that there is “no doubt in my mind that this will be most exciting time for bio-based chemicals market.He cited a “groundswell of support” for the burgeoning industry.

Gatto mentioned recently proposed measures from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., with her “Grow it Here, Make it Here” legislation to support the development of bio-based renewable chemicals, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, with his Rural Energy Investment Act to include farm bill funding for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

Vilsack summarized the projects USDA is undertaking for the bioenergy industry, and announced that USDA, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Navy will co-host an Advanced Biofuels Industry Roundtable in Washington D.C. on May 18. USDA officials say the roundtable will focus on efforts to accelerate the production of bio-based fuels for military and commercial purposes, and discuss “next steps” for those interested in pursuing the production of aviation biofuels and marine diesel.


Original story printed in April 4th, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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