White House Steps Up Support for Biofuels – The New York Times – New York Times

e85Associated Press The Obama administration is pledging to support more of this.

The White House made its first major statement on ethanol on Tuesday, mustering three Cabinet members to outline a plan to shield corn ethanol producers from the credit crisis, work with them to cut their use of natural gas and coal in ethanol production, and nudge the auto industry toward production of vehicles that can use ethanol at concentrations of up to 85 percent.

In pursuing these goals, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy, Tom Vilsack and Steven Chu, along with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, announced during a press conference the formation of a “Biofuels Interagency Working Group,’’ comprised of the three agencies.

Through the working group, the federal government announced several goals, including helping to refinance existing ethanol and biodiesel factories whose owners were having trouble obtaining credit, guaranteeing loans for the construction of new biorefineries, and expediting funding to help producers of cellulosic crops.

(Cellulosic crops refer to non-food crops, or the non-food portion of plants grown for food, like corn stalks, that in theory can be converted to fuel on a commercial scale. Many companies are trying to do just that, but none has yet succeeded on a marketable scale.)

Scientists differ on the degree to which use of ethanol from corn cuts carbon emissions, if at all. Ms. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, said the reduction amounted to about 16 percent, but she said that for both ethanol and biodiesel, the “carbon footprint” could be reduced further if the energy needed to create the fuels were derived from burning plants instead of fossil fuels.

President Obama put the Agriculture Department in charge of the multi-agency effort — a strong signal that the ethanol program remains a program for rural economic development.

The industry was looking for a signal of support, especially after the collapse of gasoline prices and the widespread backlash against corn ethanol because of a belief that it was helping to push food prices higher.

Mr. Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary, referring to stimulus money and other funding, said, “There is over $1.1 billion of opportunity here, created by the Congress, to assist in building biorefineries, in helping existing refineries convert from fossil-fuel power to renewable power.”

The money can also be used to “create opportunities for producers, to receive assistance to produce new cellulosic crops and products,” Mr. Vilsack said.

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