Vilsack assures support for ethanol

Farm Forum

LAS VEGAS – If the ethanol and biodiesel industries need reassurance of support from the Obama administration, they got it here on Feb. 8 from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. But they also got some advice on how to convince people outside their industry to support them.

“The biodiesel industry is making us a more secure country, and the most exciting piece is that it’s not just limited to fuel and energy,” Vilsack said in his speech to the National Biodiesel Board. “Because of how innovative you are, with new technology and techniques… you’ve given birth to a biobased economy, and with that the possibility of a new American economy.”

Vilsack made similar comments to the National Ethanol Conference, telling the 1,100 attendees that they are responsible for increasing farm income, allowing Americans to have less expensive gas, reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil and increasing entrepreneurship.

And speaking with reporters afterwards, the secretary reiterated the administration’s support for the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“Our position is that we are strong supporters of the RFS,” Vilsack said. “It is doing what it is supposed to do.”

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen noted that Vilsack has been a supporter of ethanol since he was governor of Iowa.

But the secretary also told both conventions that they and the RFS are under attack because they have been so successful.

“Unfortunately it is a challenging industry,” Vilsack told the Renewable Fuels Association. “It is challenged by those who perpetuate the falsehood that you are asking us in this country of plenty to choose between fuel and food.”

American farmers, he added, “have been able to produce enough corn to meet domestic needs, as well as export.” Environmentalists who criticize ethanol, he said, do not realize it improves air quality.

Vilsack told both groups they need to “fight back” by extending their influence. In rural America, he said, “We do a great job of talking to ourselves, we pat ourselves on the back, [but] we have to find a way to talk to a broader audience.”

The first step they could take, he said, is take an interest in the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to be Defense secretary.

In previous speeches, Vilsack has said he believed Hagel would be in favor of continuing use of biofuels in the military, but this time he said “we ought to be out there supporting Hagel.”

Vilsack noted that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus believes that 50 percent of the Navy’s fuel should come from U.S.-produced biofuels, but that he needs the support of the Defense secretary to continue that policy.

Vilsack also said that the biofuels producers should form alliances with environmental groups that support them and make sure that chambers of commerce and local development groups are aware of the economic power and job creation of biofuels.

Dinneen does a great job of responding to the criticism, he said, but the industry needs a proactive message to remind people of its contributions to society. That audience should include young people, Vilsack said, adding that they should recruit FFA students to use Facebook, Twitter and “create a YouTube sensation” to communicate their message.

“They want a role. It is their future, their rural America,” Vilsack said.