Sign of a New Era

By Susanne Retka Schill | March 16, 2010
One could almost hear a sigh of relief emanating from the Heartland when the final rule for the renewable fuels standard became public. The draconian impacts of the U.S. EPA's proposed rule have been sidestepped. We report the basics of the news in this issue and will explore its implications further next month. The EPA struck a balance between competing interests. The environmentalists appear to be satisfied with the rule, based on the initial press releases we saw and the lack of a media outcry following the Feb. 3 release. After all, it took the New York Times a week to get around to an editorial on the new rule, which it headlined "Sensible Rules for Ethanol."

The final rule was simultaneously posted to the EPA Web site and announced at a news conference of cabinet heads releasing the strategy to move biofuels forward in order to meet the 36 billion gallon target by 2022. The administration's Biofuels Interagency Working Group made up of the EPA, U.S. DOE and USDA revealed a strategy that is strongly pro-biofuels, with an explicit acknowledgement that advanced biofuels will be built upon a healthy conventional biofuel sector.

"To reach and exceed our biofuels targets, we will need to take a new strategic approach that continues to support the existing biofuels industry and accelerates the creation and rapid commercial deployment of new technologies so our nation's efforts to establish an advanced biofuels industry are met," says the working group's document titled, "Growing America's FuelAn Innovation Approach to Achieving the President's Biofuels Target."

Success in meeting these targets would bring many benefits to the United States, the administration strategy says, "including new jobs and greater economic vitality in rural America, increased energy independence, reduced economic vulnerability to volatile oil prices and uncertain supplies, technological and industrial leadership in renewable biofuels, and reduced global warming pollution. In short, America will be in firmer control of its energy future."

A notable feature in the strategy is an acknowledgement that the strategy will be regional in nature. In fact, the recognition of regionalization may be the most significant feature, if it indeed signals a shift in policy approach to not attempt to make one policy fit all situations. In other words, corn ethanol makes sense in the Midwest. The strategy should be to stimulate use of E85 in that region. In the Southeast, it makes sense to work on advanced biofuels based on energy cane or woody resources. "Having such regional strategies will allow logistics and transportation systems to be optimized, as well as expand new supply chain opportunities across rural America," the working group document says. Realizing the promise of a new era in agriculture through renewable fuels in a thriving bio economy will require just this sort of regional optimization.

Speaking of new eras, let me introduce the new EPM team. In January, I became editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Former editor Kris Bevill and associate editor Erin Voegele are leading the launch of a new magazine from BBI International, Industrial GHG Solutions. The expertise they've gained in reporting EPA policy and greenhouse gas issues for this magazine will be expanded to cover the topic and emerging industry surrounding the monitoring and mitigation of greenhouse gases. Replacing them on the EPM staff are Holly Jessen and Luke Geiver. With the help of our colleagues at BBI International, we will continue the company tradition of covering the ethanol industry in depth. We welcome your feedback, news tips and industry insights.