On Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell told members of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts what they wanted to hear: Moving away from conventional fuels in favor of home-grown alternatives is important. But that transition cannot come at the expense of natural resources and water quality.
"Pennsylvania needs a comprehensive energy strategy that frees us from our dependence on foreign oil, grows our economy, and respects our natural resources," said Rendell. "If we invest in alternatives like ethanol and biodiesel — fuels that rely on domestically grown food stocks produced by Pennsylvania companies — we can lower the prices at the pump and put more of the $30 billion we spend annually on fuels from abroad in the pockets of our farmers, manufacturers and rail and trucking industries."
The PennSecurity Fuels Initiative aims to replace nearly a billion gallons of conventional fuels with homegrown alternatives by 2017. Reaching that goal, he said, will require that Pennsylvania promote sustainable practices that respect the state's resources.
"Corn-based ethanol is the near-term alternative," he admitted. "It's a technologically and economically viable alternative that can be put into our supply today to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." But, planting more corn and the increased farming activity associated with it "has caused concern among some that our water quality will be impaired," he cautioned.
Rendell sees cellulosic ethanol technology as more promising for the state's future and the environment. At December's Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, he announced plans to convene a cellulosic biofuels summit in Pennsylvania later this year.
The Rendell administration is already investing in private research and development projects focusing on cellulosic ethanol. "[It] can be produced from biomass materials like switch grass, crop residues, small-diameter trees and agricultural waste — all things we have in abundance here," he noted.
of Pennsylvania's farmers now practice no-till, which reduces nutrient run off entering streams and fuel needed to produce crops. Further, more farmers are incorporating best management practices into their operation to be better stewards of the land.
The governor promised to continue investing in conservation and best management practices. But his new task force will increasingly focus on issues such as sustainability, forest and wildlife health, energy demands, water quality and how best to develop the cellulosic technology within the Chesapeake Bay region.