Vilsack Speech Misses Mark on Biofuel Policies

NRDC Reminds Administration that 'Not all biofuels are created equal'

WASHINGTON (October 21, 2010) -- In a speech at the National Press Club today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the Obama administration’s biofuels policies, including support for a short-term extension of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), implementation of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision on E15 blends.

“While Secretary Vilsack embraced a vision for transitioning from corn ethanol towards the newer, cleaner, advanced biofuels we need, when it came to concrete policy he signaled administration support for an extension of wasteful corn ethanol subsidies and a flawed biomass program, and praised EPA’s wrong decision to allow even more corn ethanol to be blended into our fuel supply,” said Daniel A. Lashof, Ph.D., director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center.

“The Gulf Coast oil disaster has made clear that we must urgently transition toward low-carbon fuels if we are to break our dangerous dependence on oil, minimize the risk of further oil spills, and decrease global warming pollution. Advanced biofuels can be part of the solution to these challenges, but let’s be clear: Not all biofuels are created equal,” Lashof said.

Lashof said that even a one-year extension of the VEETC, which gives oil companies a tax credit for using ethanol, would cost taxpayers nearly $6 billion and continue to subsidize a mature technology that is a step backwards for the environment.

“Ironically, most of this subsidy would be paid to the oil industry, which is already required by law to use ethanol under the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Lashof said. “But besides being redundant and wasteful at a time when every dollar counts, the subsidy means sacrificing funding for developing new and cleaner advanced biofuels. This nation needs policies that support environmentally protective, low-carbon technologies, not more dirty corn ethanol that causes more harm than good.”

Lashof noted that the Biomass Crop Assistance Program is intended to help farmers establish more sustainable perennial energy crops on agricultural land, but most of the resources will actually be devoted to collecting wood for use in bioenergy facilities.

“Like corn ethanol, collecting wood to use for energy could do more harm than good if it leads to degradation of our forests,” Lashof said. “Unfortunately, USDA has not conducted the necessary environmental assessment, nor established the necessary safeguards, to ensure that this does not occur.”

Lashof added that the EPA’s decision last week to raise the limit on the amount of corn ethanol that can be blended with gasoline, from 10 percent to 15 percent for vehicles made after 2007, creates serious environmental and public health concerns because higher ethanol blends damage the pollution controls in older engines, which are likely to end up using the fuel even though it is intended only for use in newer vehicles, causing more toxic air pollution to be released from cars.