Policies of the Obama Administration on biofuels

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Bioenergy > United States/Policy > U.S. policy > Policies of the Obama administration on biofuels

This page is intended to document the policies of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama related to biofuels and bioenergy (including both proposed/potential policies and actual policies, as they are adopted).



Democrat Barack Obama was elected president of the United States on 4 November 2008. Obama was known as a promoter of biofuels, which he championed while senator from the state of Illinois, a major producer of corn and soybeans.[Citation needed]

The Obama Administration's policies on biofuels are likely to depend on his policies on other issues, such as climate change, energy and agriculture, as well as on the policies, backgrounds and decision-making of key members of his administration, such as his Secretaries of Energy and Agriculture.

Proposals made to the Obama Administration

  • Brazil wants help lifting US ethanol tariffs, 17 March 2009 by the International Herald Tribune: "Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday implored American businessmen to help convince the United States to lift the 53-cent-per-gallon import tariff it places on his country's ethanol fuel."
    • Silva, "who met with President Barack Obama on Saturday, has made little progress persuading the U.S. to reduce the tariffs, which are in place to protect American farmers who make ethanol from corn. Brazil makes ethanol from sugar, in a process that is much more efficient and costs less."[2]
  • 25x'25 Economic Recovery Proposals Supported by 'Real World' Benefits, January 2009 by 25x25 Monthly Feature, America's Energy Future:
    • "'The recommendations target programs that accelerate markets for the wind energy, solar power, biomass, geothermal energy, hydropower and biofuels industries,' says Bart Ruth, 25x'25 policy committee chairman. 'They represent the best opportunity to address our troubled economic times by implementing renewable-energy and energy-efficiency initiatives that can drive and maintain economic recovery.'"
    • "'These are not pie-in-the-sky recommendations. They are not academic exercises," said 25x'25 Policy Chairman Ruth. 'These recommendations are underscored by projects and "on-the-ground" experience from all renewable energy sectors and areas across the country. It's important that Congress and President Obama understand that that with some relatively small shifts in policy and a small influx of new money, huge returns to our economy, to our energy security and to our environment are within our grasp.'"
  • 25x'25 Offers Congress, New Administration Recommendations To Spark Economic Recovery, 15 December 2008 Press Release:
    • "The National 25x'25 Alliance Steering Committee today presented to Congress and the incoming Obama administration a wide-ranging package of new recommendations that will bolster the U.S. economy, create new jobs and insure a clean energy future."
    • "The 12 recommendations boost federal renewable energy programs by calling for additional investments totaling some $4.14 billion, an outlay that could ultimately help generate hundreds of billions in new annual revenues and millions of new jobs."
    • "The package also calls for a renewed look at government support for advanced biofuel production, including increased funding in the form of grants specifically aimed at the construction of commercial-scale, cellulosic production facilities. The proposals underscore the critical role USDA and its programs can and will play in the promotion of a clean energy future and a robust economy." [4]
  • Obama energy plan (PDF file). The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan delineates administration energy goals such as short-term relief from soaring energy prices, long-term climate change and new energy solutions, diversifying energy sources and investments, and better fuel efficiency.


  • Obama energy plan (PDF file). The Obama-Biden New Energy for America plan delineates administration energy goals such as short-term relief from increased energy prices, long-term climate change and new energy solutions, diversifying energy sources and investments, and improved fuel efficiency.



  • Senate Votes to End Ethanol Blenders Tax Credit, 16 June 2011 by AgWired: "An amendment to end the ethanol blenders tax credit (VEETC) passed the Senate today by 73 to 27, a vote that some agricultural groups applaud while some denounce, while the ethanol industry says it is unlikely to matter."
    • "The Renewable Fuels Association calls the vote disappointing but 'ultimately inconsequential' since the underlying economic development bill to which this amendment is attached is 'unlikely to make it to the president’s desk.'"
    • "U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Obama administration opposes an abrupt end to the VEETC. 'We need reforms and a smarter biofuels program, but simply cutting off support for the industry isn’t the right approach. Therefore, we oppose a straight repeal of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and efforts to block biofuels infrastructure programs.'"[5]
  • USDA Announces Project to Encourage Development of Next-Generation Biofuels, 5 May 2011 press release by USDA Farm Service: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the establishment of the first Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) Project Area to promote the production of dedicated feedstocks for bioenergy. This project will help spur the development of next-generation biofuels and is part of Obama Administration efforts to protect Americans from rising gas prices by breaking the nation’s dependence on foreign oil."
    • "Comprising 39 contiguous counties in Missouri and Kansas, the first BCAP Project Area proposes the enrollment of up to 50,000 acres for establishing a dedicated energy crop of native grasses and herbaceous plants (forbs) for energy purposes. Producers in the area will plant mixes of perennial native plants, such as switchgrass, for the manufacture of biomass pellet fuels and other biomass products to be used for power and heat generation. The proposed crops also will provide long term resource conserving vegetative cover. The project is a joint effort between the agriculture producers of Show Me Energy Cooperative of Centerview, Mo., and USDA to spur the expansion of domestically produced biomass feedstocks in rural America for renewable energy."
    • "BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a primary component of the strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, reduce pollution, and spur rural economic development and job creation. BCAP provides incentives to interested farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for the establishment and cultivation of biomass for heat, power, bio-based products and biofuels."[6]
  • U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy Announce Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative, 15 April 2011 press release by U.S. Department of Energy: "To support President Obama's goal of reducing America's oil imports by one-third by 2025, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) today jointly announced up to $30 million over three to four years that will support research and development in advanced biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products. The projects funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) will help create a diverse group of economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products. Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50 percent compared to fossil fuels and will play an important role in diversifying America's energy portfolio."
    • "Subject to annual appropriations, USDA plans to invest up to $25 million with DOE contributing up to $5 million for this year's Biomass Research and Development Initiative. This funding is expected to support five to ten projects over three to four years. A description of the solicitation, eligibility requirements, and application instructions can be found on the FedConnect website, Fedconnect.net and the Grants.gov website under Reference Number DE-FOA-0000510. Pre-applications are due on May 31, 2011 and must be submitted electronically. It is anticipated that applicants who are encouraged to submit full applications will be notified by August 3, 2011."[7]
  • USDA aims to expand E85 market, 9 April 2011 by Des Moines Register: "In a bid to increase the market for ethanol, the Obama administration is offering aid to rural gas stations to install new tanks and pumps."
    • "Under rules that the Agriculture Department will issue soon, stations could get grants and loan guarantees to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of installing equipment needed to dispense E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and gasoline, and other mixtures."
    • "The goal is to get the ethanol pumps in 10,000 more stations in five years. About 2,300 stations nationwide are now equipped to sell E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol."
    • "The ethanol industry is fast running out of room to increase its sales because most conventional gasoline now contains 10 percent ethanol, which has long been the legal limit for the additive. The Environmental Protection Agency recently agreed to raise the ethanol cap to 15 percent for 2001 and newer cars and trucks, but it's not clear how many stations will sell a blend that won't be legal for all of their customers to buy."[8]
  • Biofuel policy is causing starvation, says Nestlé boss, 23 March 2011 by The Independent: "Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, lashed out at the Obama administration for promoting the use of ethanol made from corn, at the expense of hundreds of millions of people struggling to afford everyday basics made from the crop."
    • "'Today, 35 per cent of US corn goes into biofuel,' the Nestlé chairman told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York yesterday. 'From an environmental point of view this is a nonsense, but more so when we are running out of food in the rest of the world.'"
    • Corn prices almost doubled in the year to February, though they have fallen from their peak in the pastfew weeks."
    • "US exports account for about 60 per cent of the world's corn supply. Demand has surged as more people join the middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India, not just because these new consumers demand more food made from corn, but also because demand for meat has increased and livestock farmers need to buy more feed."
    • "The lobbying has fallen on deaf ears in the US, however. Ethanol production from corn is heavily subsidised, with output running at more than 13.5 billion gallons annually."[10]
  • Is Biomass Clean or Dirty Energy? We Won't Know for 3 Years, 13 January 2011 by Solve Climate News: "The Obama administration put off for another three years a decision on whether to regulate planet-warming gases from biomass power."
    • "The delay leaves wide open a question central to the industry's future: Should turning tree parts into electricity qualify as clean renewable power in the eyes of government regulators, or should biomass emissions be regarded as a source of greenhouse gas pollution?"
    • "Biomass includes plant waste, wood chips, organic debris and whole trees, and industry representatives say burning it is "carbon neutral." They argue that new growth absorbs CO2 and cancels out emissions spewed into the atmosphere from burning the wood."
    • "Conservationists dispute that claim with a very different understanding of what constitutes the natural carbon cycle. Rotting biomass enriches soils, which capture and sequester some of the carbon of the once-living plant tissue. They argue that biomass combustion produces more CO2 than burning fossil fuels — by how much varies depending on the type of materials and how they are transported."
    • "EPA said it would bring the best science to bear on the issues over the next three years. By July 2014, it will decide how to treat biomass under its "tailoring" rule, which determines which polluters are required to account for their emissions under the Clean Air Act."[11]


  • Tsunami: Top 10 Impacts for Biofuels from US Elections, 3 November 2010 by Biofuels Digest: "US voters gave control of the House of Representatives to the Republican Party, when Democrats lost at least 57 seats in the House and six Senate seats in the 2012 mid-term elections."
    • "But what does it mean for biofuels? ...[Ten] impacts — ranging from people to policies — can be seen even now."
    • "The bottom line: moderately positive for biofuels. One of the few areas where Republicans and Democrats agree on priorities is the importance of reforming US energy policy, and biofuels enjoy bipartisan support, especially advanced biofuels. Though the Farm Bill may push to 2013, and gridlock may reign, Obama will have to run on something other than health care and the 2009 stimulus, and is likely to reach out on energy."
    • "Ethanol tax credit. Full-court pressure will now be on to pass the ethanol tax credit before a huge freshman class of spending-wary House members come to Washington. With time pressure, ethanol proponents will take less of a hard line, and look for the ethanol tax credit to drop to 36 cents or lower."[12]
  • US military to run on 50:50 biofuels mix, 1 April 2010 by Biofuels International: "US president Barack Obama is introducing new energy policies that will see an increased use of advanced biofuels in the country’s military vehicles."
    • "According to Obama these energy strategies will not only help protect the environment, but will also go towards protecting national security."
    • "The Green Hornet, a Navy F-18 fighter jet, is scheduled to fly on Earth Day and will be the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound powered by a 50:50 biofuel blend."
    • "A mixture of biofuels and ordinary fuels is also being tested in a tank from the Army and Marine Corps, while the Air Force is testing jet engines that run on biofuels."[14]
  • White House Clears Rules on Indirect GHG Emissions From Biofuels, 2 February 2010 by Greenwire/New York Times: "The White House has completed its review of controversial U.S. EPA regulations aimed at curbing renewable fuels' greenhouse gas emissions."
    • "The Office of Management and Budget signed off on the rule yesterday..., clearing EPA to finalize the long-delayed implementation of the renewable fuels standard that Congress included in the 2007 energy bill."
    • "The standard requires EPA to assess the "lifecycle" emissions of biofuels -- weighing the emissions from growing crops, producing fuels made from them, and distributing and using the fuels."
    • "The draft regulations EPA proposed last year sparked outrage from biofuels advocates and farm-state lawmakers who maintained the agency was unfair to ethanol."
    • "The EPA proposal measures emissions from "indirect" land-use changes associated with biofuels -- such as land that is deforested in other countries because of increased crop growth in the United States. The agency concluded, depending on the time frames modeled, that traditional corn ethanol could have a slightly larger emissions footprint than gasoline when land-use changes are factored in."[16]


  • USDA Makes a Move on Methane, 12 December 2009 by CQ Politics: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call from Copenhagen that his department and the dairy industry have reached an agreement to accelerate efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s continuing campaign to convince farmers they can benefit from an international agreement on climate change."
    • "USDA will provide technical assistance and grants to dairy farmers for anaerobic digesters and generators used to compost manure, extract gases and burn them to produce electricity. Manure emits methane, a major greenhouse gas."[17]
  • Obama seeks growth in biofuels beyond ethanol, 27 May 2009 by Reuters: U.S. President Barack Obama "wants to see new types of biofuels commercialized as quickly as possible, but the corn-based ethanol industry needs to remain viable in the meantime."
    • "The U.S. government wants to boost production of renewable fuels made from non-food crops like switchgrass and plant waste left over from harvesting grain."
    • "Regulators and lawmakers are debating how to measure the impact of land-use change on the environment -- for example, emissions released when corn production displaces other crops, giving farmers the incentive to turn forests into cropland."
    • "Obama said the next generation of biofuels will be successful only if 'long-standing artificial barriers to market expansion' are removed."
  • Administration addressing ethanol, climate change, 5 May 2009 by Associated Press: "President Barack Obama directed more loan guarantees and economic stimulus money for biofuels research and told the Agriculture Department to find ways to preserve biofuel industry jobs."
    • "Obama said an interagency group also would explore ways to get automakers to produce more cars that run on ethanol and to find ways to make available more ethanol fueling stations."
    • "The reassurances to the ethanol industry came as the Environmental Protection Agency made public its initial analysis on what impact the massive expansion of future ethanol use could have on climate change. Rejecting industry and agricultural interests' arguments, it said its rules...will take into account increased greenhouse gas emissions as more people plant ethanol crops at the expense of forests and other vegetation and land use is influenced worldwide by the demand for biofuels."
    • "The ethanol industry and farm-state members of Congress had wanted only a comparison of direct emissions".[19]
  • Obama backs corn ethanol, but urges biofuels variety, 13 March 2009 by the Des Moines Register: "President Barack Obama says he wants to preserve the nation's ethanol industry while developing new versions of biofuels made from feedstocks other than corn."
    • "Obama stopped short of saying whether his administration would bail out the struggling ethanol industry by increasing the amount of the additive that can be blended with gasoline."
    • "'Corn-based ethanol over time is not going to provide us with the energy-efficient solutions that are needed,' Obama said during a question-and-answer session in the White House on Wednesday with regional newspaper reporters."[20]
  • US Stimulus Package to Shore up Biofuels Sector, 6 February by Bridges Trade BioRes News Digest:
    • "The Obama administration is reaching out to the struggling US ethanol industry with its new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus package, which is designed to shock the US economy back into the black, includes several provisions for renewable energy and biofuels industries."
    • "In addition to the provisions in the stimulus package, the US Agriculture Department has said it will help bolster the industry by seeking out more efficient means of production. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that his department should research, develop, and promote ‘best practices’ to improve efficiency at corn-based ethanol plants. 'We need to make sure that the biofuels industry has the necessary support to survive the recent downturn,' Vilsack said recently." [21]


  • Obama, Vilsack and Salazar: The Ethanol Scammers’ Dream Team, 29 December 2008, by Energy Tribune:
    • "The math is straightforward: to produce 32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol would require the annual harvest and transport of 320 million tons of biomass. Assuming each trailer holds 15 tons of biomass, that volume of biomass would fill 21.44 million semi-trailer loads. If we further assume that each trailer is 48 feet long, the column of trailers holding that quantity of feedstock would stretch almost 195,000 miles – that’s nearly the distance from the earth to the moon."
    • "The corn ethanol industry is a scam. Cellulosic ethanol is a sham. And yet Obama and his appointees continue to promote the false notion that these fuels are the answer to America’s energy challenge." [22]
  • Vilsack: Some Hard Choices on Ethanol, 18 December 2008 by Time - USA:
    • "Iowa is the ethanol capital of the nation, and President-elect Barack Obama has been a reliable supporter of biofuels, so it's no surprise that former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, his choice for agriculture secretary, has been an even more reliable supporter of biofuels, even chairing a national coalition on ethanol (ethyl alcohol, a fuel distilled from plant matter)."
    • "Vilsack does have predictably close ties to traditional agriculture and agribusiness, and he did run the nation's leading corn and soybean state. But he's also been a supporter of farm conservation programs, clean water regulations, and a cap-and-trade scheme to prevent global warming."
    • "Vilsack suggested that second-generation biofuels like cellulosic ethanol manufactured from switchgrass could solve the problem, particularly if it was grown on non-productive hillsides so that it wouldn't displace food crops." [23]
  • Chu appointment delights energy campaigners, 16 December 2008 by the Financial Times: "The appointment of Steven Chu as US energy secretary has been welcomed in the US and around the world by scientists and campaigners on climate change as presaging a dramatic change in the US approach to global warming."
    • "It represents a blow to coal-fired power generation in the US, and a boost for new nuclear plants and for advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, typically made from plant waste instead of food crops."
    • "Mr Chu was instrumental in bringing to [the University of California] Berkeley a $500m grant from BP, the British oil group, to set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, a research foundation working to find new biofuels using biotechnology."
    • "He is sceptical of traditional ethanol, saying he would 'rather drink it', but has enthusiastically backed more advanced biofuels produced from non-food crops such as miscanthus, sometimes known as elephant grass."[24]
  • Obama Team Set on Environment, 11 December 2008, by the New York Times: "President-elect Barack Obama has selected...Nobel Prize-winning physicist" Steven Chu, "the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary".
    • "At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, [Dr. Chu] has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions."[25]
    • More:
      • According to Dr. Chu's official biography, "On Chu’s initiative, Lab staffers from many divisions have joined with partners from other Department of Energy labs, universities, and industry to organize the BioEnergy Institute and the Energy Biosciences Institute. Chu has also been the driving force behind a multidisciplinary energy science center known as Helios, slated to begin construction on the Berkeley Lab site in 2010."
      • "At the heart of each institute and proposal is the belief that biological engineering of non-food plants, combined with nanoscience, can create liquid fuels and electricity from sunlight."
  • U.S. biofuels sector sees ally in Obama, 5 November 2008 by The Guardian: "U.S. biofuel makers, struggling to make a profit at a time of tumbling oil and gasoline prices, look upon President-elect Barack Obama as a staunch ally for growth."
    • "Obama has expressed support for the federal requirement to use ethanol, made mostly from corn, as a motor fuel and says he will accelerate the development of new feedstocks."
    • "The Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group, said Obama was steadfast in backing ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels throughout the campaign."[26]

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