Vilsack to ethanol industry — ‘You’re winning’

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013

LAS VEGAS — As legislation proposing to reform or repeal the renewable fuel standard starts to trickle in, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has a message for the ethanol industry: The Obama administration is squarely behind you.

At a speech yesterday at a renewable fuels industry gathering here, Vilsack acknowledged the congressional and legal challenges facing the ethanol sector and repeated his unwavering support for the industry.

Opponents have stepped up attacks this year, he said, because the ethanol industry is so far “winning” the various battles on and off Capitol Hill.

“You have to ask yourself: ‘Why all these challenges? Why now?'” Vilsack said. “Well, I believe there’s a reason, and that reason is that you’re winning. It sure doesn’t seem like it at times. But you are winning. You’re making a difference. You’re growing consumer choice. You’re growing consumer demand. You’re creating new opportunities.

“And the folks on the other side are a bit concerned that you’re winning.”

The Agriculture secretary’s speech came as several lawmakers filed the first bills this year attempting to dismantle parts of the renewable fuel standard. A bipartisan pair of House members and a trio of Senate Republicans introduced legislation this week that would compel U.S. EPA to base its yearly cellulosic biofuel targets off actual production, a measure meant to halt what opponents say have been absurdly high targets that force oil companies to pay penalties for not using fuel that does not yet exist (E&ENews PM, Feb. 7).

There will likely be several more bills filed this year, as well as hearings in at least the House Energy and Commerce Committee exploring whether to reform or repeal the renewable fuel standard, which sets yearly production targets for both traditional ethanol and advanced biofuels.

In his speech, Vilsack urged the ethanol industry to be more proactive in its messaging and in forming relationships with interest groups that lobby on the Hill.

The traditional ethanol industry, he said, also needs to make a “concerted effort” to roll out cellulosic fuels, or those made from plant materials such as agricultural residues, switch grass and municipal solid waste. He warned that if congressional support for cellulosic fuels begins to waiver, investments that have kept the nascent industry afloat could also dry up.

Vilsack told reporters after the speech that USDA intends to encourage the ethanol industry to take steps to boost its political weight.

“Our position is that we are strong supporters of the RFS. It’s working, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, and it has helped to build this industry,” Vilsack said. “We had the second-largest amount of biofuel produced last year. We’re beginning to see advanced biofuel production facilities ramp up, and I think this year you’re going to see a significant increase in production, and so it’s working, and we would hope that Congress would allow it to continue to work.”