The Obama administration announced steps today aimed at improving the coordination of U.S. biofuels policy, increasing investment in next-generation fuels and shrinking the industry's environmental footprint.
At the same time, U.S. EPA is releasing draft rules today showing that corn-based ethanol has lower "lifecycle" greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline but still fails to meet emission targets set by Congress in 2007, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.
The administration is forming a new Biofuels Interagency Working Group that will be led by the secretaries of Energy and Agriculture and the EPA administrator. President Obama is also calling on the Agriculture Department to quicken the pace of programs to support the biofuels industry.
"President Obama's announcement today demonstrates his deep commitment to establishing a permanent biofuels industry in America," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, a major ethanol-producing state.
The inter-agency group is tasked with developing a "comprehensive" market development program, which would include policies to aid retail marketing and increase production of flex-fuel vehicles.
Another task would be coordinating infrastructure policies that affect supply, transport and distribution of fuels. A recent report [pdf] by the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy warned that infrastructure to deliver increasing amounts of fuels is at risk of lagging behind increased production.
The group will also come up with policy ideas for reducing the environmental footprint of growing biofuels crops – considering land use, natural-resource conservation, water efficiency and "lifecycle" greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States produced 9 billion gallons of ethanol last year and is expected to surpass 10 billion gallons in 2009, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an industry trade group.
A major 2007 energy law expanded the national renewable fuels standard to reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. Traditional corn ethanol is limited to 15 billion gallons, and the rest would ultimately come from next-generation sources such as cellulosic ethanol made from crop wastes, grasses and other materials.