Vilsack renews support for ethanol, charges industry to educate

By Holly Jessen | August 10, 2012

Audience members gave Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, three standing ovations in the course of a keynote address in which he renewed his ever-present support for the biofuels industry and the renewable fuel standard. Vilsack spoke to about 250 people Aug. 10 on the last day of the American Coalition for Ethanol’s annual conference, held this year in Omaha. “We don’t want to turn our backs on this industry right now,” he said, “We are right on the cusp of some exciting things.”

He spent some time talking about bio-based products being developed and produced in the U.S., including fuels, chemicals, fibers, fabrics and more. Some examples he gave were rubber tires containing materials derived from soybeans and plastic beverage bottles produced from 100 percent corn. “It started with you,” he told the audience, made up primarily of ethanol producers. “It started with this notion that we could help the country by creating new fuel sources.”

Vilsack’s remarks came just hours after the USDA released the August crop report, which reduced yield estimates for corn. Despite the drought, the current estimates for corn still represent the eighth largest corn harvest in history, he pointed out. Reinforcing some of the same things that were said the previous day at the ACE conference, Vilsack said that market forces were already at work to ration demand for corn. He also touched on the flexibility built into the RFS, such as the option for obligated parties to utilize accumulated renewable identification numbers (RINs) and/or meet their obligations next year. “I think it is important to point out that the market is responding and there is flexibility built into the RFS,” he said.

Because not everyone sees it that way, however, Vilsack charged the industry with the task of engaging, educating and advocating for its cause. Holding press conferences and sending letters to members of U.S. Congress is not enough, he said. He challenged those present to speak to everyone from leaders at the state and local level to the hometown gas station owner, who may not understand the positive effect ethanol has, lowering prices at the pump. “You’ve got to get in the game, because the other folks are in the game,” he said, adding later that, “If you sit, if you are on the sidelines, others will take advantage of it.”

Vilsack was presented with a letter signed by 230 conference attendees, thanking him for his support of the ethanol industry and the RFS.