Obama admin officials urge lawmakers to fund renewable fuels effort

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014

As House and Senate appropriators angle to push an omnibus spending deal across the finish line, three Cabinet members are leaning on them to follow through with funding for what was to be a tri-agency effort to spur large-scale production of alternative fuels.

Nearly three years ago, President Obama directed the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and the Navy to work with industry to bring cost-competitive, drop-in biofuels to market for military use in a $510 million interagency project. USDA has funded its portion of the work through its Commodity Credit Corp., which provides loans and financial payments to farmers. And after intense legislative battles during debate on the Senate’s 2013 defense authorization bill, the Defense Department’s portion has been authorized and appropriated. But funds have not come for the Department of Energy’s portion of the project.

Last week, the secretaries of Defense, Energy and Agriculture wrote to the heads of the House and Senate Appropriations committees and the subpanels with jurisdiction over DOE’s budget, urging support for the department’s part of the effort.

“An enduring strategy to increase energy efficiency and develop a competitive domestic renewable fuels industry will help strengthen our national security, lower costs for consumers, and reduce environmental impacts,” they wrote. “Each of our agencies has a unique, important role to play, and in order to make this effort successful, each agency requires the investment of its core competencies as well as funds.”

Specifically, they are asking that lawmakers provide DOE with both funding and the authority to transfer the funds to the interagency program.

Stakeholders say that the $510 million investment was always a modest one for what the agencies were setting out to do and that industry confidence will be shaken if a major portion of the promised funding does not flow.

But USDA and the Defense Department are moving ahead with the money they do have. They have already awarded millions to biofuels companies for planning and designs for biorefineries (Greenwire, May 28, 2013). And last month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a “Farm to Fleet” initiative that will, for the first time, make advanced biofuels available to the Navy as part of its regular procurement practices (E&ENews PM, Dec. 11, 2013).