EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: 'Biofuels is about innovation'

By Luke Geiver | April 19, 2011

In Iowa, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity created from biofuels—this was the sentiment of USDA’s Secretary Tom Vilsack at a press conference following his visit to a Renewable Energy Group Inc. biodiesel facility in Newton. “The last thing that anyone should be doing,” he said, “is cutting the legs out from under this industry at a time when oil prices are unstable.”

Vilsack, along with U.S. EPA’s Administrator Lisa Jackson, praised those who took the time to speak with them about biofuels, farming and ranching during their trip, which also included stops at a 1,600-acre row crop farm and a livestock operation. “I think this was a very historic opportunity,” Vilsack said of Jackson’s attendance. “Those who were in attendance could not remember the last time an EPA administrator had visited the state of Iowa and taken the time and the effort to sit down with farmers and ranchers.” And during her visit, Jackson said she learned a number of things.

“What I learned was, whether it was the livestock operation, the row crops, biodiesel or ethanol or other advances,” she said, “biofuels is about the innovation. There really is remarkable innovation happening right here on the ground.” Specifically, Jackson referred to business-based innovation in improved process efficiencies and growing methods that “had great impact on air quality and water quality.”

She also noted that while EPA has a “specific mission,” there is no reason for it to work in competition with agriculture. “In fact,” she added, “what I learned today just reinforces my belief that there are tremendous win-win opportunities.”

For Vilsack, those opportunities include the benefits of biofuel production. “The USDA wants to show its support of biofuels to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” he said in response to a question from Ethanol Producer Magazine’s editor, Sue Retka Schill, on what the USDA has been up to over the last few weeks with biofuels announcements. “We see this (biofuels) as a lynch pin to revitalize rural economies. Not only will it add dollars and cents to the bottom lines of farmers and ranchers,” he said, “it will also help to create jobs.” When the U.S. reaches the 36 billion gallon goal set by the RFS2, he said the country could see up to a million new jobs. Along with job creation, “we are going to see capital investment [and] more construction opportunities” based on a continued development of the biofuels industry.

To seize on the benefits of biofuels, however, Vilsack pointed to a number of things that need to happen, most notably continued governmental support. “It requires continuing to provide some degree of support for this industry. We found out what happens when the supports are ended abruptly when the biodiesel tax credit was stopped. We lost production capacity, we lost jobs, and we clearly don’t want to replicate that.”

Daniel Oh, REG’s president, opened a closed round table discussion between several industry leaders from the ethanol sector including Jeff Broin, CEO of Poet, and Todd Becker, president and CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, from which Vilsack and Jackson both said they benefited. “We applaud Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Jackson,” Oh noted, for their roles in enhancing advanced biofuels production and utilization. 


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