Vilsack Talks About Ethanol and the RFS

Ag secretary tells National Ethanol Conference that the industry needs to start playing offense.

Published on: Feb 27, 2012

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the renewable fuel industry should be proud of its contributions to the nation's economic, environment and energy security.

In remarks to the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Fla., Vilsack acknowledged that the past few years haven't been easy for ethanol fuel and its advocates.

"You know we've had to play defense and it's been a very concerted and very organized effort to undermine people's confidence in this industry," Vilsack said. "First it was you weren't energy efficient and then we said wait a second the new tests indicate our energy efficiency is better than petroleum. Then it was food versus fuel – how can that possibly be when farmers only get 16 cents of every food dollar. Who gets the other 84 cents? It is the people who package, process, refrigerate, store and transport; all those people use oil, when oil goes up food goes up. We need to push back against those myths."

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addresses the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addresses the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Fla.

Vilsack encouraged conference attendees to start playing offense and he said that means joining with the Obama Administration to defend the Renewable Fuels Standard.

"Just because it is in the law doesn't mean it will always be in the law," Vilsack said. "Because of the success of this industry, because of the extraordinary work you've done over the last several decades to grow and expand this industry you've gotten the attention of the oil industry, no question about that. Now there are very interesting and subtle ways of folks beginning to talk about the Renewable Fuels Standard raising the question do we need it? Should it be changed? Should it be expanded? Should it we include other aspects. We need to make sure we maintain this Renewable Fuels Standard."

Vilsack said holding onto the RFS is important for U.S. national security and that keeping the country on track to consuming 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022 would mean less imported oil, lower prices at the pump for consumers and more jobs for Americans.

Vilsack reiterated USDA's commitment to help develop new bioenergy feedstocks, finance refinery construction and create new markets but he noted that many of the tools given to USDA in the 2008 Farm Bill's Energy Title to help ethanol such as REAP, B-CAP and the biorefinery assistance program are not included in the budget baseline for the next farm bill. He says if those programs are not re-funded he will ask Congress for flexibility to use existing programs.

For example, he said there's an $800 million to $1 billion business and industry program in the Rural Development Title that could be tapped to provide a loan guarantee or some other form of assistance to support advanced biofuels.