Obama skips biofuels in State of the Union, touts clean energy

By Kris Bevill | January 25, 2012

President Barack Obama stressed the need for the nation to “double-down” on clean energy during his Jan. 24 State of the Union address, but neglected to include biofuels in his list of domestically available energy sources, even while noting that the U.S. relied less on foreign oil last year than in any of the past 16 years. Instead, the president announced a plan to open more areas for offshore oil and gas drilling and emphasized the importance of natural gas, wind, solar and high-tech battery production.

Biofuels stakeholders expressed optimism that the federal government will continue to support alternative fuels as part of its “all of the above” strategy to meet the country’s energy needs, despite the lack of mention by the president.

“Domestic ethanol is the only renewable alternative fuel that is meaningfully reducing imported oil demand, creating homegrown jobs and helping improve the environment,” said Matt Hartwig, chief of staff for the Renewable Fuels Association. “America is the world’s leading producer, user and supplier of renewable ethanol. An American clean energy strategy must and will include ethanol—from all feedstocks.”

“We applaud the president’s announcement that he is going to push for homemade, U.S. energy after 40 years of being addicted to foreign oil,” Tom Buis, CEO of ethanol industry group Growth Energy, said in a statement. “We have to move ahead with American ethanol as part of that solution. We create jobs right here in America that can’t be outsourced, clean the air and strengthen national security. Growth Energy looks forward to working with the Administration and the Congress.” Buis noted that while the president may not have mentioned biofuels specifically in the State of the Union speech, the Obama administration has been very supportive of biofuels and ethanol. "Last night's State of the Union address was as much about politics as it was about policy," he said. "It's always nice to get a shout-out in a speech, but what's more important is what the administration is doing day-to-day to enact biofuels policies."

In a statement, Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, said renewable energy has already proven to be an industry that creates jobs and strengthen the economy, two areas that were a major focus of the president’s speech. “Innovations like advanced biofuels can play a major role in the president’s vision, but we need steady policies like the renewable fuel standard—and we look forward to working [with] Congress to preserve them,” he said.

Ethanol industry groups have been lobbying extensively over the past year to eliminate oil subsidies and Obama offered support for that movement during his speech. “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century,” he said. “That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on  a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.” The Obama administration has been highly criticized for approving federal loan guarantees to companies such as the now-defunct solar panel manufacturer Solyndra LLC and cellulosic biofuel producer Range Fuels Inc., but Obama indicated that his administration has no plans to stop providing support to these types of innovative projects. “Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail,” he said. “But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”

Obama went on to chastise Congress for failing to agree on a clean energy standard and said he will take action on his own, directing his administration to allow for the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes. He also announced a plan for the Department of Defense to begin using massive amounts of clean energy, stating that the Navy will purchase an amount of renewable energy equivalent to the capacity required to power 250,000 homes annually.