Obama Pushes Biofuels to Boost Green Jobs

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U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference at the Newseum in Washington, February 3, 2010. REUTERS/Jason ReedWASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a strategy to boost biofuels production on Wednesday, seeking to nudge the country toward energy independence while balancing the environmental costs of grain-based motor fuels.

The move is part of the administration’s effort to gain more votes for a climate bill stalled in the Senate that will seek to boost production of clean, low-carbon energy and help the country reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

The climate bill faces further hurdles after the election last month in Massachusetts that gave Republicans a Senate seat long held by Democrats, depriving the president’s party of 60 votes that could overcome procedural hurdles.

The biofuels strategy, which also aims to boost jobs as the country faces double-digit unemployment, is laid out in a report by the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, a body the president established to help spur investment in biofuels and make the industry more environmentally friendly.

The goal is straightforward: getting the country on track to meet a congressional goal of producing 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) of biofuels a year by 2022.

“This is a substantial goal, but one that the U.S. can meet or beat. However, past performance and business as usual will not get us there,” the report said.

The United States is far away from its target now, currently producing 12 billion gallons per year, mostly from corn ethanol.

The report offers solutions that would iron out problems in getting ethanol from producers in the U.S. Midwest to consumers near the coasts.

Such snags include filling stations that have been slow to adopt pumps to distribute a fuel blend that is mostly ethanol, called E85, and a lack of dedicated pipelines for biofuels.

In addition, loan guarantees for ethanol plants could be targeted more effectively to support new biofuels plants, the report said.

Obama and members of his cabinet are scheduled to meet with a handful of state governors to discuss energy policy on Wednesday.

Energy Revamp

The president is pushing for the United States to overhaul its energy habits by switching to less-polluting fuels and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.

The departments of agriculture and energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will work together to create a regional supply chain to make sure all parts of the country will make biofuels markets more robust, the report said.

Coinciding with Obama’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency also could issue new rules on measuring carbon dioxide emissions from biofuels such as ethanol.

Under a 2007 energy law, ethanol made from corn must emit less CO2 than gasoline over the life cycle of the fuel, from production to being burned. Cellulosic fuels, made from crop waste and the woody bits of nonfood crops, would have to be even cleaner.

The struggling biofuels industry is concerned that the Obama administration will move too quickly away from ethanol, which is mostly made from corn, to more difficult techniques using wood chips and other biomass.

Obama’s push for ethanol could also shore up his support in farm states, where ethanol helps support demand for corn.

The president may touch on other energy policies, such as technology for capturing and storing carbon emissions, during the meeting with governors.

Since his State of the Union address last week, the president has embraced a range of fuel alternatives, including nuclear and clean coal technology, to help win support of some wavering Democrats in coal states and Republicans.

Some expect that Obama will seek to add the energy initiatives to a climate change bill to win broad bipartisan support for legislation to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The biofuels working group was asked to develop a strategy to increase biofuels production, investment in the industry, and the use of “flex fuel” cars, which can run on either gasoline or fuel that is mostly ethanol.

Biofuels are mostly made from corn and other grains, while companies are beginning to make advanced cellulosic fuels from organic matter such as wood, and crop and animal waste.

Critics do not see them as the perfect replacement to high-polluting fossil fuels, however.

Environmentalists and some scientists say production of U.S. biofuels from corn and other grains can drive out production of other crops, prompting farmers in other countries to burn down forests and clear land to grow those crops — creating new sources of CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

Article by Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner, editing by Eric Walsh; appearing courtesy of Reuters

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Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. Mark Kissinger on

    Biofuel form any food grain, grown with petroleum based fertilizers & pesticides is a BAD, BAD,BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD idea.

    Even in corn states, its a BAD, BAD,BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD idea.

    Obama must find his political support another way.

  2. Pingback: New technique could turn sawdust into biofuel « Environment and the economy in NYC

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