A Dog and Pony Show (That Matters)

REG’s Newton facility got a visit from Vilsack and Jackson
By Luke Geiver | May 12, 2011

A week after testifying before the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works committee on the topic of biofuels, USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack headed home to Iowa, and although the trip included stops at a livestock operation and a row-crop farm, a majority of his destinations centered around biofuels. While visitors like Vilsack at such facilities as Renewable Energy Group Inc.’s Newton, Iowa, biodiesel plant, may not create an immediate impact on the price of biodiesel, or instantly extend a tax incentive, or magically increase the mandate for biomass-based biodiesel, there are some guests that should always be welcomed.

REG’s President and chief financial officer, Daniel Oh, might attest to that. Oh had the opportunity to lead a roundtable discussion with Vilsack, in which ethanol industry leaders Jeff Broin, CEO of Poet LLC, and Todd Becker, president and CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, also participated. Are any government officials better qualified to speak on biodiesel’s ability to meet RFS2 obligations, reduce imported petroleum or help U.S. fleets in their quest to use alternative energy? Few, if any, and although a visit from Vilsack can reinvigorate and remind everyone involved with biodiesel how important their efforts are, a special part of the agriculture secretary's visit was that he was accompanied on the tour by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, an occurrence that Vilsack noted doesn’t happen often. “I think this was a very historic opportunity,” he said of Jackson’s visit. “Those who were in attendance could not remember the last time an EPA administrator had visited the state of Iowa.”

Jackson’s presence helps clarify why government officials or other big names who tour a biodiesel facility are important, even if those visitors aren’t typically bringing a list of potential investors or a loan guarantee with them. Following the tour, Jackson explained that of all that she learned, the most important point to remember, she said, was that “biofuels are about innovation,” a positive message one might hope all visitors would leave a biodiesel facility thinking—especially considering the number of people to whom a decider like Jackson can spread that message.

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