February 4, 2010 in Business

Invest in biofuels, panel urges

U.S. won’t meet mandates without targeted spending
Philip Elliott And Matthew Daly Associated Press
Associated Press photo

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet Wednesday with a bipartisan group of governors in the State Dining Room of the White House to discuss energy policy. From left are Biden, Obama, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – A presidential task force recommended spending more money to make biofuels such as ethanol, saying the nation is likely to fall short of mandates for more environmentally friendly energy.

An energy task force presented President Barack Obama with a report outlining how the United States’ production of fuel from plants or animals was unlikely to meet the goal Congress has demanded. The current annual production is 12 billion gallons – lawmakers have mandated 36 billion by 2022.

The group recommended more aid for the biofuel industry with a combination of federal dollars and private-sector investments.

“We cannot afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds forward,” Obama said. He also announced a new task force to study coal’s role in the nation’s energy needs.

Obama remains committed to meeting Congress’ goal – which also includes a benchmark of 100 million gallons of biofuel from wood chips or sugarcane this year – but recognizes it is unlikely without significant new measures, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The biofuel task force – led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson – recommended the government make certain that fuels produced with U.S. backing be compatible with the current fleet of cars on the road and that agencies recognize their limits. Otherwise, the efforts would be a waste of time, research and tax dollars, the task force said.

Wednesday’s meeting was a first step in Obama’s push to use the U.S. energy industry as a source for creating much-needed jobs.

Obama mentioned the recommendations at a meeting with governors from coal-producing states, hoping to earn their support for a languishing energy bill and bolster his image as a leader willing to work with Republicans as well as Democrats.

“There’s no reason we can’t work on a bipartisan way to get this done,” Obama told governors in the White House State Dining Room.

Many pieces of those proposals are likely to win Republican support on Capitol Hill, where GOP allies have been elusive for a Democratic White House looking to pass controversial cap-and-trade legislation that would limit the nation’s emissions. Wednesday’s plan also was likely to find support from GOP governors in states rich in coal and corn, which can be used to produce ethanol.

Republican Govs. Jim Douglas of Vermont – the chairman of the National Governors Association – Bob Riley of Alabama and Mike Rounds of South Dakota met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Also there were eight Democratic governors, including Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal. Wyoming is the nation’s top coal-producing state, and Montana is home to vast coal reserves.

The National Mining Association welcomed creation of the coal task force, which will be led by Chu and will include the EPA. Hal Quinn, the group’s president and CEO, said the Obama administration was acknowledging the crucial role coal plays in supplying nearly half the nation’s electricity.

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