Obama responds to governors' biofuels concerns

By Ryan C. Christiansen | May 04, 2009
Report updated May 28, 2009, at 3:59 p.m. CST

The Governors' Biofuels Coalition, a biofuels policy development group that includes governors from the majority of U.S. states, received a letter from President Barack Obama on May 27 responding to the coalition's Feb. 17 letter requesting that the president articulate a vision for the future of biofuels in the U.S. The coalition also asked Obama to address policies related to lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for transportation fuels, increasing ethanol blends to E13, increasing the sustainability of biofuel feedstocks, and further developing biofuels markets.

In his response, Obama said the coalition's suggestions were "very helpful" in drafting his May 5 Presidential Biofuels Directive, which established a Biofuels Interagency Working Group and announced additional Recovery Act funds for renewable fuel projects and his administration's notice of a proposed rulemaking on the renewable fuels standard. "It is my hope that the Presidential Biofuels Directive will lead to new jobs, new businesses and reduce dependence on foreign oil," the president said in his letter to the coalition.

Addressing the coalition's request to articulate a vision for the future of biofuels in the U.S., Obama looked beyond first-generation biofuels such as corn-based ethanol. "Advanced renewable transportation fuels will be one of the nation's most important industries in the 21st Century," he said. "As you well know, the nation's biofuels industry today uses the starch portion of feedgrains as its primary feedstock, which has focused debate on how to accurately measure the greenhouse gas effect of corn-based ethanol. What is often underappreciated in this debate is that the industry is moving toward the utilization of a wide variety of non-grain feedstocks for biofuels."

Obama said his administration is committed to moving as quickly as possible "to commercialize an array of emerging cellulosic technologies so that tomorrow's biofuels will be produced from sustainable biomass feedstocks and waste materials rather than corn."

Biofuels in general "are the primary near-term option for insulating consumers against future oil price shocks and for lowering the transportation sector's carbon footprint," Obama noted, and the transition to advanced biofuels "will be successful only if the first-generation biofuels industry remains viable in the near-term."

The president did not specifically respond to the coalition's call for higher ethanol blends to increase demand for ethanol. The coalition noted that "temporarily lower oil prices and the near saturation of the 10 percent ethanol blend market are weakening the foundation of an industry that saved the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in oil imports in the past several years, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

"Corn ethanol is the foundation for all future opportunities, including cellulosic ethanol," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group made up of producers and other supportive organizations, in a statement regarding Obama's letter. "Increasing the ethanol in our fuel supply to 15 percent is one step the administration can take right now toward accomplishing the president's stated goal of increasing the renewable fuel we use in this country to 60 billion gallons."