By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Nov. 10 – Despite concerns that next year's new Congress will press hard for budget cuts and significant policy changes, USDA Under Secretary for Farm & Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller tells Agri-Pulse that the future remains bright for job-generating, rural-revitalizing biofuels. He expects vigorous debate over energy policies in the new Congress but predicts the outcome will be continuing bipartisan support for renewable energy programs:

  • “The Secretary has clearly laid out a vision where USDA is going to be a strong supporter of the biofuels industry.”

  • “We have a number of programs in place already to help stimulate the growth of that industry and we expect the Congress, even though, yes, there will be a debate, we think there is still strong interest among many members of Congress on a bipartisan basis for ensuring that we begin to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy and find ways to produce more energy here at home.”

  • “We do not view this as a tradeoff of food versus fuel. We believe we are entirely capable of doing both and certainly the next generation of biofuels I expect is going to make use of resources that heretofore have really just gone to waste anyway.”

  • “So we are very optimistic that this is going to be one critical element in ensuring greater economic prosperity throughout rural America and the creation of a lot of jobs both on farm and off farm.”

  • “As we look at the 2012 farm bill, many of the programs that were contained in the last [2008] farm bill expire, so that funding and that authority will expire unless Congress takes action. So we will be working with Congress to try to find ways to ensure that we can continue to provide appropriate levels of support for the industry in the next farm bill.”

Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack has continued to voice his strong support for bioenergy and biofuels and for the array of renewable energy programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. As part of this continuing support, a USDA spokesman points out, changes are possible because “we always listen to the views of members of Congress, as well as the public and the industry, as we formulate rules governing renewable energy programs.”

The spokesman adds that “Creating sustainable renewable energy is important to America’s long-term national security, and Secretary Vilsack has urged Congress to extend the biodiesel and ethanol tax credits as we continue working to create a domestic biofuels industry. At the same time, we need to begin to think about fiscally responsible reforms to these tax credits to make it more efficient and effective at addressing the full range of challenges we face in meeting our goals for traditional and next generation biofuels.”

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