If you are looking to find an opponent of renewable fuels, it is not hard to do — just look to any oil interest, or any group supported by oil money, or any Senator or Congressman who gets contributions from the big oil lobby. You can turn to many environmental groups who rage over oil spills, but take sides with the oil lobby when it comes to supporting biofuels. You can even find critics of biofuels at the White House and the EPA, despite their rhetoric to the contrary. So it is somewhat of a surprise that there is one cabinet level officer who has emerged as not only a supporter of biofuels but one who is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Long time readers of this column know that I have been critical of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. His obsession with rural development early in his tenure, his support of Michelle Obama’s diet dictates, and his lack of strong leadership on the Farm Bill have all been points on which I have been sharply critical. Yet, in recent months, he has emerged as one of the strongest supporters of renewable fuels and has been a behind the scenes lobbyist for farmers at the EPA. The latest stand came when he found $100 million in the USDA budget to foster more biofuel pumps at filling stations.
What is even more remarkable is that he chose the very day the EPA announced their RFS rules to announce his new grant program. The revised RFS rules set blend levels for ethanol far below what the industry had wanted. They also said it was up to the oil industry to set the blend levels, an issue I dealt with in last week’s column. Yet, in a one up move, the USDA signaled its belief that more ethanol is needed and more market access should be allowed. With the kind of lock step allegiance the Obama White House has demanded from its cabinet officers, this was tantamount to a revolution.
In a one-on-one interview I had with Vilsack last week, he reiterated his strong support for biofuels and for the benefits it brings to rural America and to the nation as a whole. This is just the latest program USDA has undertaken to promote biofuels. It has worked with the military to promote renewable fuels for airplanes and ships, has programs that promote cellulosic crops for the next generation of renewable fuels, and has even provided funds for pilot programs on methane digesters. When it comes to a vision for our nation’s energy future, the USDA is doing a much better job than the Energy Department.
Unfortunately, the White House is still calling the shots. Despite the President’s grandiose platitudes about renewable fuels, the White House continues to cave into oil interests and refuses to call off its attack dog, the EPA. The Agriculture Secretary should be commended for being one of the few in the Obama administration who understands and appreciates the potential of renewable fuel. As former Governor of Iowa, he has seen firsthand what biofuel production can do to generate economic growth, create jobs, and provide an environmentally safe and sustainable energy source.