Schafer defends biofuels, GOP platform

By Kris Bevill | September 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted Sept. 22, 2008 at 10:32 a.m. CST

At a recent gathering of business writers and editors, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer spoke at length on the benefits of biofuels, while also defending the Republican Party's platform that calls to end any type of mandate for ethanol.

"Taking biofuels out of the picture does nothing to blunt the impact of soaring oil prices," Schafer said. "It just leaves us paying more for gasoline." He also said that those who continue to blame biofuels for high corn prices are ignoring the "elephant in the room" - the price of oil.

Schafer spoke at length on the emerging world of second-generation biofuels and the support for those industries being offered by new programs in the 2008 farm bill, including a biomass crop assistance program and a program that will allow the USDA to provide loan guarantees of up to $250 million for biorefineries seeking to adopt new production technologies at a commercial-level. "We pledge to make good use of these authorities at USDA to help get this industry moving, while being careful at the same time not to let companies become dependent on taxpayer support," Schafer said.

When asked about the recently passed Republican party platform that includes a call to end ethanol mandates, Schafer said he "did raise my eyebrows" at that part, but defended the platform by saying that it was a way of returning to the Republican Party roots of less government involvement in the marketplace wherever possible. "I believe those incentives ought to stay there until the industry is mature, until money and dollars can be made, profits can be made, and the infrastructure developed," he said. "And then those dollars should go away and into other public policy pursuits." However, Schafer added, he can't recall any platform ever becoming actual policy.

Schafer hinted at the upcoming multi-agency National Biofuels Action Plan, which will be the result of a collaborative effort between the USDA, the U.S. DOE and the U.S. EPA. The plan is expected to be rolled out within the next few weeks. At press time, the USDA had no further details.