USDA's Vilsack criticizes Senate panel biofuels vote

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This week an Obama administration official criticized a U.S. Senate panel for voting to block the Pentagon from buying more costly alternative fuels, saying a military biofuels program announced last year could help revitalize rural America.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted last week to block the Pentagon from using 2013 funding to buy alternative fuels that are more expensive than conventional fuels. Another amendment, also approved as part of a $631.4 billion defense bill, would prevent the Defense Department from building a biofuels refining facility unless required by law.

The provisions still need approval from the full Senate and the defense bill would have to be reconciled with the version approved by the House of Representatives.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said senators on the panel "may not fully understand" a partnership between the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the U.S. Navy aimed at encouraging the development of biofuels.

The Navy wants to use next-generation fuels made from wood chips, inedible parts of plants and other sources to reduce its use of fossil fuels imported from other countries.

"It's beyond me why we wouldn't help this industry that will create higher farm income, more jobs in rural America, reduce the costs for consumers, satisfy commercial airlines ... and make our military less reliant on a foreign supply of energy," Vilsack said during a conference call with reporters.

"It is just astounding that people don't understand that."

Vilsack made the comments during a conference call with Adam Monroe, president of biotechnology company Novozymes North America, to urge Congress to extend several tax credits for clean-energy companies.

Boosting renewable fuels and creating "green jobs" has been a priority for President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and is a talking point for his campaign for re-election in November.

Monroe said Novozymes took advantage of government support to open a new plant in Nebraska that will create 100 new jobs.

Critics have argued that the next generation of biofuels is not yet commercially feasible, that using corn to make ethanol drives up corn prices, and that the government is unfairly picking winners and losers in energy markets. Republicans have made this criticism part of their election-year attacks on Obama.

Vilsack told reporters the partnership with the Navy is crucial to ramp up production of alternative fuels and bring the cost down to a level more attractive to other consumers.

The $510 million program calls for companies to be invited to bid on biofuel projects for which the government would match the investment. The USDA and Energy Department would oversee parts of the development, and the Navy would buy the fuels to power fighter planes and other military craft.

"Government has a role to work in partnership with the private sector to provide incentives, to provide the right tax policy, to provide assistance to get these industries up and going," Vilsack said.

The Senate Armed Forces Committee voted on the biofuels provisions of the defense bill in a closed-door session.

"The Senate has taken a significant step to rein in the radical green agenda that President Obama is attempting to impose on our military," Senator James Inhofe, a Republican, said in a statement released after the vote.

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texas  |  June, 04, 2012 at 09:28 AM

DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM AND ALGAE RESEARCHERS NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED! Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GRANT AND GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with algae projects less than 20% completed. An audit needs to be done on all DOE Biomass Program Grants to algae researchers. The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher. The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at universities for another 50 years? In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, algae research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years! Concerned Taxpayer ARPA-E halts algae project, citing missed milestones Jim Lane | February 16, 2012 Share"In Washington, the DOE has halted a research project at Iowa State University funded by ARPA-E to develop biofuel feedstock from an aquatic micro-organism for failing to reach research milestones. About 56% of the $4.4 million grant was used. Politicians against increasing APRA-E funding as proposed by President Obama’s new budget are using it and other halted ARPA-E projects as examples to reject the program."

David Wright    
Emerald Hills, CA  |  June, 04, 2012 at 11:18 AM

Remember that our great inventions all required examining many possibilities to find the best solution. Ask Edison. If you aren't having failures you aren't doing research! Only those who are ignorant of what research really is are criitical of "failures".

SD  |  July, 02, 2012 at 10:02 PM

The problem is that Edison did not have government pushing money into his research, he didn't have a board of directors who were sucking the money up out of the government trough, and he didn't have political activists and panderers funneling that government money into their campaign funds! He either had to keep on keeping on, or try something else when his work didn't produce immediate results.

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