Comment: Obama backs biofuels talk with dollars

Source: By LISA MENSAH, Undersecretray, USDA Rural Development, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In his rush to make the case for domestic biofuels, the writer of “The good news on ethanol: U.S. a ‘biofuels superpower’” [March 1] fails to note the administration’s strong support for biofuels and aggressive pursuit of investments in renewable energy. To quote President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address, “converting sunlight into liquid fuel” is a key part of the administration’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We start on the farm, by supporting producers leading the charge towards a more sustainable energy future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides support on both ends of the process — incentivizing nearly 1,000 growers and landowners to produce nonfood energy crops, and supporting energy facilities, like those operated by Poet across Iowa, that turn that renewable biomass into clean energy. USDA now offers crop insurance coverage to provide better protection for farmers growing biofuel crops. The administration has also partnered with the private sector to construct or expand hundreds of bioenergy projects nationwide. Through its Biorefinery Assistance Program, for example, USDA has invested more than $765 million over the past six years in projects like the Fiberight facility in Iowa.

Across the administration, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested over the past six years to accelerate research on non-food bioenergy feedstock crops, with a particular focus on developing better aviation and marine biofuels. That support will, for instance, help scale up production capacity to meet a commitment by the U.S. Navy to use more than 100 million gallons of biofuels every year. Two other aviation biofuel projects supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will produce “green” crude oil from algae, and transform municipal solid waste into fuel.

At the same time, as the writer and ethanol producers themselves have noted, the industry is evolving, and the administration’s support is evolving with it. Ethanol production today has become more efficient and less energy intensive. With administration support, ethanol producers are taking advantage of new markets for ethanol and its byproducts and coproducts both here and overseas, and creating greater stability and profitability for the industry.

Together, these investments have helped to lay the groundwork for a strong industry that plays a critical role in the administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy that works to lower prices at the pump, reduces America’s dependence on foreign oil, and bolsters economic growth in rural communities.

LISA MENSAH is undersecretary for USDA Rural Development. Contact: