Obama Announces 3 Steps to Boost Biofuels, Clean Coal

At a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors from around the country on Feb. 3, President Barack Obama laid out three measures that will work together to boost biofuels production and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The measures are:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule to implement the long-term renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons by 2022 established by Congress.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that would provide financing to increase the conversion of biomass to bioenergy.
  • The President’s Biofuels Interagency Working Group released its first report – Growing America’s Fuel. The report, authored by group co-chairs, Secretaries Vilsack and Chu and Administrator Jackson, lays out a strategy to advance the development and commercialization of a sustainable biofuels industry to meet or exceed the nation’s biofuels targets.

In addition, President Obama announced a Presidential Memorandum creating an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal strategy to speed the development and deployment of clean coal technologies. The United States' economy will continue to rely on the availability and affordability of domestic coal for decades to meet its energy needs, according to the EPA press release of the announcement, and these advances are necessary to reduce pollution in the meantime. The President calls for 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects to be up and running by 2016.

The Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage will be co-chaired by representatives from DOE and EPA and include participants from at least nine different agencies and offices. The Task Force shall develop within 180 days a plan to overcome the barriers to the deployment of widespread affordable CCS within 10 years. The plan should address incentives for CCS adoption and any financial, economic, technological, legal, institutional, or other barriers to deployment. The Task Force should consider how best to coordinate existing federal authorities and programs, as well as identify areas where additional federal authority may be necessary. The Task Force shall report progress periodically to the President, through the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

President Obama said, “Now, I happen to believe that we should pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. It will make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, and the decision by other nations to do this is already giving their businesses a leg up on developing clean energy jobs and technologies. But even if you disagree on the threat posed by climate change, investing in clean energy jobs and businesses is still the right thing to do for our economy. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is still the right thing to do for our security. We can’t afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds ahead.”

“Advancing biomass and biofuel production holds the potential to create green jobs, which is one of the many ways the Obama Administration is working to rebuild and revitalize rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Facilities that produce renewable fuel from biomass have to be designed, built, and operated. Additionally, BCAP will stimulate biomass production and that will benefit producers and provide the materials necessary to generate clean energy and reduce carbon pollution.”

Reaction to the Biofuels Announcement

Tom Buis, chief executive officer of Growth Energy, the coalition of U.S. ethanol supporters, said "The expanded Renewable Fuels Standard released today rightly puts an emphasis on America’s growth energy – ethanol – and that in turn will help our economic recovery, strengthen our national security and clean our skies.” He added that there were several improvements to the rule, including making volume levels of domestic ethanol retroactive to the first of the year and changing the indirect land use changes penalty. However, Buis said, Growth Energy's position is that the indirect land use change should not be in the rule until the issue has been studied thoroughly.

Joe Jobe, chief executive officer of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) said, "Today’s rulemaking, in particular implementation of the Biomass-based Diesel program, will allow America to reap these benefits.”

To qualify as Biomass-based Diesel, a fuel must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is the only fuel available in commercial quantities in the United States that meets the definition.

NBB noted that many of its concerns about the proposed rule were addressed in the final rule, including

  • accounting for 2009 and 2010 Biomass-based Diesel use requirements. Consistent with the Energy Independence and Security Act’s requirements, 1.150 billion gallons of biodiesel must be used domestically by the end of 2010. Biodiesel used domestically in 2009 and 2010 will count toward this total.
  • updating GHG methodology to reflect industry concerns (biodiesel produced from domestic soybean oil is assumed to reduce GHG emissions by 57 percent compared to petroleum diesel fuel, and EPA’s uncertainty analysis recognizes that the GHG reduction could be as high as 85 percent. Thus, biodiesel produced from soybean oil will qualify for the Biomass-based Diesel program, and the rulemaking provides pathways for biodiesel produced from other vegetable oils to qualify for the program).

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