Vilsack: USDA can help further biofuel development

By Erin Voegele | January 12, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 29, 2009, at 11:18 a.m. CST

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wants the USDA to be a national leader in climate change mitigation efforts. This role will involve conservation, efficiency, new technologies, and expanded opportunities in biofuels and renewable energy, he said during a Jan. 26 news conference.

"I'm going to work to advance research and development and pursue opportunities to support the development of additional biofuels, wind power, and other renewable energy sources," Vilsack said. "We need to make sure that the biofuels industry has the necessary support to survive the recent downturn while at the same time promoting policies that will speed up the development of second and third-generation feedstocks for those biofuels that have the potential to significantly improve America's energy security and independence."

Vilsack said ethanol producers who efficiently and effectively manage their facilities are important. "USDA has a role, I believe, in helping to develop and promote best practices that will increase and enhance management efficiencies which in turn will allow more of these producers of ethanol to stay in business," he continued.

Vilsack said it's important to create additional demand for advanced biofuels and renewable energy. He offered various examples of how the USDA could work to accomplish this goal, including working with farms and rural communities to determine how operations can be changed to embrace renewable fuel and energy, and working with the U.S. Forest Service to determine how woody biomass operations could increase the supply of second and third-generation biofuels.

"There are a series of tax credits, grants, and loan programs designed to expand production facilities and to convert existing production facilities to use these new fuels. All of that is in the realm, if you will, of the USDA, and I think it's important for the USDA to aggressively promote these efforts," Vilsack said.

In addition, as Congress develops a stimulus package, Vilsack said there will likely be an opportunity for the USDA to work with the U.S. DOE and other departments to promote and market the need for biofuels and renewable energy in both rural communities and urban centers.

Vilsack also spoke of the U.S. EPA's role in determining ethanol's contribution to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and how the USDA will complement that role. "I think what we need to be doing at USDA is, first and foremost, establishing a very good working relationship and a good communications system between USDA and EPA," he said. "I think it's going to be important for us to recognize that there are a number of challenges to the way in which ethanol is being produced today, and we have to respond to those challenges." One way to respond to these challenges, Vilsack added, is to accelerate research in the area of feedstock efficiency while working to promote second and third-generation feedstocks.

A full transcript and audio file of Vilsack's Jan. 27 press conference is available on the USDA Web site.