Obama directs agencies to buy more bio-based products

Source: Amanda Peterka • E&E  • Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012

President Obama today directed agencies to purchase more bio-based products and called for a strengthening of the Department of Agriculture’s certification system for materials made from plants.

Obama’s presidential memorandum also directs Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to increase by 50 percent the number of products that are classified as bio-based and qualify for federal procurement standards.

The directive was among three based on recommendations from the White House Rural Council, formed last year to boost jobs in the rural United States. The other initiatives include a national competition for projects that promote innovative rural jobs and a health information technology program.

“My administration is committed to using every tool available to promote economic growth and create good jobs in rural America,” Obama said in a statement. “Today’s announcements reflect our continued focus on expanding opportunity for rural Americans and all Americans.

The bio-based material directive builds on Obama’s executive order from October 2009 that established a national sustainability strategy and required agencies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The order required agencies to certify that 95 percent of contracted products and services are bio-based, energy-efficient, water-efficient, non-ozone-depleting, nontoxic or otherwise environmentally friendly.

The memorandum today also seeks to strengthen USDA’s BioPreferred program, mandated by Congress in 2002 and amended by the 2008 farm bill.

Under BioPreferred, USDA categorizes and labels products made from renewable materials. USDA has designated 64 product categories representing some 9,000 products that qualify for sustainable federal procurement standards.

Vilsack is now being asked to increase by 50 percent within a year both the categories and individual products that qualify for such labels.

The president is further requiring that agencies randomly sample federal purchases to make sure they take into account bio-based options. The memorandum directs Vilsack and Commerce Secretary John Bryson to help bio-based businesses remain competitive and sell their products to federal, state and local governments.

The memorandum also requires Vilsack to develop a system for the reporting of bio-based product purchases, prepare a study on the jobs created by the bio-based sector and boost awareness of the BioPreferred program.

The directive came a day after Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow announced a new “Grow it Here, Make it Here” initiative urging Congress to strengthen the BioPreferred program in the next reauthorization of the farm bill. The Michigan Democrat called for auditing and compliance provisions to be added to the program.

Stabenow is also seeking to expand USDA’s Biorefinery Loan Guarantee Program to help bio-based manufacturers build new plants and upgrade old ones. Her initiative also would allow bio-based manufacturers to qualify for up to a 30 percent tax credit.

Both the directive and Stabenow’s initiative gained support from the biotechnology industry’s largest trade group.

“Bio-based products meet consumer demand for items that are affordable and healthier for the environment,” said Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “The United States is well positioned to use its leadership in biotechnology, agricultural productivity and manufacturing innovation to build a bio-based economy.”