Let's Get Serious

By Ron Kotrba | April 21, 2011

It seems like any time the U.S. president or the secretary of energy or agriculture give a speech on energy and mention advanced biofuels, everyone in this sector goes crazy over it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see advanced biofuels remain on the forefront of our national energy discussion, but what’s behind the lip service?

How seriously can the U.S. be taken about becoming energy independent when even the worst oil spill of our lifetime, the BP debacle in the Gulf, hasn’t changed a thing? What oil spill, right? The well was capped and that was that, the greatest environmental catastrophe that stared us in the face day after day just sort of disappeared, and along with it the momentum it offered advanced biofuels development. It didn’t even drive Congress to reinstate the biodiesel tax credit. That came, of course, much later in the year.

But if the U.S. is to be taken seriously about energy security and independence through the use of renewable fuels such as biodiesel, then two things need to happen immediately: the biomass-based diesel carve-out must increase from 1 billion gallons by 2012 to either 5 percent (B5) by 2015, or by doubling it immediately; and the loophole in RFS2 that allows imported biomass-based diesel to satisfy the federal directive, which is counterproductive to energy independence and security, must be closed.

One could make a strong argument that foreign feedstock should still be allowed to qualify, however, as long as proper source tracking is conducted for EPA to determine its sustainability. This would allow the U.S. to retain its biodiesel refining capacity—and jobs—while keeping the feedstock base sufficiently broad to meet any increased biomass-based diesel mandate.

Despite 2011 being the first time in history in which the dollar tax credit and RFS2 implementation coexist, some biodiesel plants are still idled, and many others are producing well under capacity. Some sources say those plants that are idle today are idle for a reason, and it may take as much money to build a new plant as it would to get some of those mothballed facilities up and running again. Check out more on this in our staff report on page 30, “Reasons to Invest.”

U.S. national policy should not be adding to that idled capacity by having too low a fuel standard or a policy that encourages foreign-refined fuel to qualify, putting us back in the very familiar boat of energy insecurity and dependence.

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