This is a column from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack provided by the agency.
By Secretary Tom Vilsack
Since taking office, President Obama has been committed to an all-of-the-above approach that expands production of American energy resources. Already, there are signs that this strategy is making an impact. Last year, domestic oil production reached the highest level in nearly a decade. Imports of foreign oil fell to the lowest level in 16 years. We’re producing more natural gas than at any time in our history. Since 2008, renewable energy generation from sources like wind, solar, and geothermal has nearly doubled. And the Obama Administration has supported the first nuclear power plant in thirty years.
Strengthening the domestic biofuels industry has been another critical component of this overall strategy. And today, U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. In fact, average monthly production increased more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2011. That means more jobs – especially in rural America – and greater energy security.
At USDA, we continue to support cutting-edge efforts to reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuel. For example, earlier this month, USDA announced approval of a $5 million payment to Western Plains Energy, LLC to support the construction of a biogas anaerobic digester in Oakley, KS. The completed project will utilize waste energy resources from a local cattle feedlot to replace almost 90 percent of the fossil fuels currently used by Western Plains Energy. In Blairstown, Iowa, USDA funding will be used to construct a 55,000 square foot facility that will produce cellulosic ethanol by converting municipal solid waste and other industrial pulps into advanced biofuels, as well as using conventional renewable biofuel derived from seed corn waste. When operational, the facility is expected to produce approximately 3.6 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. Support for renewable energy projects such as these is an example of the many ways USDA is helping revitalize rural economies.
Last year, through the Rural Energy for America Program, USDA provided biomass project funding assistance for a total of 52 projects with just over $31 million in grant and loan note guarantees. This support helped to leverage a total of $154.5 million of biomass project development in 26 states which will help produce clean, renewable heat and power for farms and small businesses in rural America.
We’ve got to keep this momentum going. This week, the biofuels community filed a brief to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on how the EPA is setting goals for the implementation of the congressionally mandated Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS). These folks, largely from rural America, are standing up for a more secure energy future and a stronger economy – one that can create up to a million new jobs in the domestic biofuels and biobased industries.
While some may challenge the EPA on enforcement of the Renewable Fuels Standard, it is important to recognize that biofuels will be an increasingly important part of our nation’s energy portfolio in the years ahead. And when combined with other efforts to increase energy efficiency and promote advanced, clean energy technologies, we will move closer to achieving energy independence and build on the progress we’ve already made. In fact,we have already cut net oil imports by ten percent – or a million barrels a day – in the last year alone.
At the same time, we know that our economy will rely on oil for the foreseeable future. As we work to expand domestic oil production, we will also need to blend it with our domestically produced biofuels – whether cellulosic ethanol or drop in, biodiesel or aviation – and the sooner the better. After all, we can’t afford to wait on the issue of American energy security.