Speaking before a capacity crowd this morning at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, a distinguished panel representing three federal agencies and a member of the agricultural media discussed Federal renewable energy policy and its prospects to reduce consumption of imported oil, improve environmental quality and produce new jobs in rural America.
Leading off the discussion, Paul Argyropoulos, a Senior Policy Advisor with the Environmental Protection Agency, explained the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS 2) and the mandate, as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that the American economy use 36 billion gallons of renewable transportation fuel per year in its transportation fuel supply by 2022. Of that, 20 billion gallons are targeted to come from sources such as switchgrass, energy cane, woody biomass and other non-food feedstocks. This year, Argyropoulos said, U.S. production is expected to approach 14 billion gallons from all sources.
Sarah Bittleman, Senior Advisor on Energy to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, outlined the USDA programs that, in total, show the department’s commitment to a full array of renewable energy development activities. She spoke about the five regional biomass research centers that have been designated across the nation to identify feedstocks that will support a growing demand for biofuels and she said USDA’s Risk Management Agency is working to provide crop insurance products to support the feedstock energy crops that American farmers and ranchers will produce. Bittleman also said that “the least expensive energy is the energy you never have to use,” and she spoke about how USDA’s Rural Energy for America program is helping farmers, ranchers and small business owners cut energy costs and improve energy efficiencies.
She also discussed the important partnership between USDA and other departments including EPA and the Department of Energy as they work to fulfill President Obama’s renewable energy goals as outlined in his State of the Union address.
Paul Bryan, Senior Program Manager with the Department of Energy, discussed his background in the petroleum sector and outlined for the audience the opportunities and challenges that refiners face as they transport and blend fuel. He spoke of how renewable fuels create economic opportunities and “jobs that cannot be outsourced,” reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut direct and indirect costs of imported oil and keep the U.S. a technology leader. Bryan said, “It all starts with sustainable supplies of feedstocks.”
Journalist Jerry Hagstrom, veteran national agriculture reporter, provided his analysis of the political climate in the current reality of $100/barrel crude oil. Summing up the importance of renewable energy production to rural America, moderator Harry Baumes, Ph.D., director of USDA’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, noted that he “doesn’t think there is one agency in USDA that doesn’t have an energy component.”
The Ag Outlook Forum concludes later today.