Vilsack: More biofuel funding announcements coming soon

By Kris Bevill | July 28, 2011

During a speech delivered July 26 at the U.S. DOE Biomass Program’s annual conference, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said his agency continues to be committed to President Barack Obama’s challenge for the nation to consume one-third less foreign oil by 2025 and it will continue to make funds available for biomass-related projects in order to meet that goal. Admittedly, “we have a ways to go,” he said, but the USDA recognizes the importance of research and development and the need for the bioenergy industry to encompass all parts of the country and will direct funds toward that purpose.

In January, the USDA issued loan guarantee commitments for three cellulosic ethanol projects. It has also distributed millions of dollars in grants and reimbursements for various advanced biofuels projects so far this year and Vilsack told conference attendees that he anticipates making more announcements “in the very near future.” The USDA also this year modified its Rural Energy of America Program to allow blender pump and E85 pump distribution systems to be eligible for funding, created multiple Biomass Crop Assistance Program project areas to spur the production of bioenergy-specific crops, and is reportedly working to rewrite some of its other funding programs to make them more accessible to biofuels projects. “All of this is designed to provide a comprehensive approach from the lab to commercial-size operations to the marketplace,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack explained that the USDA is intently focused on boosting the domestic renewable energy industry because not only will it provide energy security and reduce the environmental impacts currently associated with fossil fuels, but it allows struggling rural areas of the country an opportunity to create jobs and improve their economies. “It is about rural America,” he said. “We have 2.2 million farmers in this country today, but really only about 200,000 to 300,000 actually prosper. The rest are just hanging on. That’s why it’s important for us to do a better job of creating new opportunities in this energy field.” Vilsack said the 2022 renewable fuel standard mandate of 36 billion gallons will equal $100 billion invested in new plant construction and could create as many as 1 million new jobs.

Vilsack said later in the day that the threat of funding cuts for biofuels programs next year creates a “great challenge” for government officials and he is embracing that challenge. “I think there are ways in which we can restructure programs, modify programs, simplify them, focus them, create additional interesting partnerships,” he said. “I think you’re going to see examples of that in the very near future, perhaps as early as next month on some things we’re working on.”