The focus was on wind energy during President Barack Obama's tour of the Siemens Energy turbine manufacturing plant at Ft. Madison, Iowa, on April 27. But Iowa Governor Chet Culver had another energy source on his mind.
Before Obama's tour, Culver briefly discussed with the president the need for Congress to break through the ethanol "blend wall." Currently, the federal government only allows up to 10% ethanol to be blended with gasoline and used in non-flex fuel vehicles nationwide. But ethanol industry supporters say vehicles can run safely with a 15% blend, and they want the limit raised. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make a decision on the blending rate sometime this summer.
"The president and I had a short, yet fruitful discussion," says Culver. "The renewable fuels industry is vitally important to the state of Iowa, creating thousands of jobs while helping our agriculture base and rural life throughout Iowa. The president acknowledged our concerns, and I look forward to working with him and his administration to give consumers more options at the pump and help grow America's biofuels industry."
Emphasized need to restore biodiesel tax credit, extend ethanol credit
Culver also discussed with Obama the need to extend the ethanol tax credit that is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. And Culver told Obama of the need to restore the biodiesel tax credit which Congress let expire at the end of 2009.
On the second day of his tour, Obama made stops in Missouri and Illinois. He visited an ethanol plant at Macon, Mo. "Homegrown biofuels are a key part of our strategy for a clean energy future," he told a crowd of farmers, plant workers, community members and local business owners at the Poet LLC ethanol plant.
Some of the farmers who attended came away a little disappointed. They were expecting Obama to make a strong showing for ethanol and biodiesel. The entire speech, minus introductions, was only about 10 minutes long and most of it was spent talking about the economy. About three minutes was spent on what his administration has done to promote renewable energy with the economic recovery act, the Biofuels Working Group and the Navy using biofuel in a new jet.
But there was no mention of the top priorities of the ethanol industry. Those priorities are to get the tax incentives renewed and the E15 waiver approved. Without those actions, the future of the ethanol industry is questionable. It is also notable that the president did not even mention the word "corn"—even though he was standing next to a big front end loader that had its bucket filled with corn.
President did get message about need for higher ethanol blends
The good news is that Jeff Broin, president of Poet LLC, the largest U.S. ethanol producer and the firm that manages the plant at Macon, did get a chance to speak briefly with the president about the industry's concerns. "We talked about the fact that cellulosic ethanol has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that there are some policy issues that are very important, that need to move that forward—the first concern being that today the ethanol market is full," says Broin. "Basically, with only 10% ethanol being allowed in gasoline today, we need to move that wall and open up the market to higher ethanol blends."
Broin says he only had a limited amount of time to talk with the president and was not able to address the ethanol tax incentive issue, but Broin did discuss it with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was on the tour of the ethanol plant with President Obama.