Ethanol will have at least one friend in the next administration. President-elect Barack Obama announced his pick for Secretary of Agriculture this morning: Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, who built his underdog presidential campaign largely on a platform of energy independence and, during his tenure as governor, approved tax credits and other incentives for biofuels.
Steering ethanol policy will rank near the top of Vilsack’s to-do list in the Cabinet. He laid out his thoughts on biofuels from corn (starting point, not the future), sugar (drop the tariff, please), and cellulosic feedstocks (totally hot) in an interview with Rolling Stone back in 2006, when he was running for President:
[C]orn-based ethanol is not necessarily the wave of the future. Ethanol may be but corn is not. There’s not enough corn. There needs to be focus on switch grass, on municipal waste, on timber, on other ways to produce ethanol that is more efficient and burns more efficiently and uses less energy to produce it. Corn was the entryway to this discussion. It’s by no means the end all be all.
This country probably also needs to take a different view on the sugar-cane ethanol produced in Brazil. We put a big tariff on it. We should look to ultimately eliminating that so that we get the supply of ethanol that lets Detroit produce flex-fuel cars and develop that industry.
The President-elect also expressed support for biofuels this morning, saying a new commitment to using U.S. lands responsibly for the benefit of families (an idea about as controversial as puppies) means “ensuring that we are using our farmlands not only to strengthen our agricultural economy, but to grow advanced biofuels that will help make the United States energy independent.” From the text prepared for Obama’s news conference, available on Washington Post:
How we harness our natural resources — from the farmlands of Iowa to the springs of Colorado — will speak not only to our quality of life, but to our economic growth and our energy future.
Obama had this to say about Vilsack (again from Washington Post):
As Governor of one of our most abundant farm states, he led with vision, promoting biotech to strengthen our farmers and fostering an agricultural economy of the future that not only grows the food we eat, but the energy we use. Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home.