A new report issued by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance urges the U.S. Department of Energy to change its piecemeal approach to commercializing ethanol from cellulose and develop a comprehensive strategy. “The future of American agriculture may depend on this,” says David Morris, Vice President of ILSR and author of Putting the Pieces Together: Commercializing Cellulosic Ethanol.
Congress made clear its farmer and rural development focus in the Energy Policy Act (EPAct). It required that projects “demonstrate outstanding potential for local and regional economic development.” In addition, EPAct requires that a priority be given to projects “that include agricultural producers or cooperatives of agricultural producers as equity partners in the ventures; and… have a strategic agreement in place to fairly reward feedstock suppliers.”
The ILSR report proposes that DOE’s strategy take into account a key element of the Energy Policy Act: a mandate for 250 million gallons/year of cellulosic ethanol by 2013. ILSR argues that the various incentives contained in the Act — direct grants, loan guarantees and direct purchasing — will not significantly accelerate that time line. Therefore, ILSR has urgedDOE to use the EPAct’s resources to achieve its qualitative goals: maximizing the benefits to the nation’s farmers and rural communities.
“Given the mandate, the country will achieve EPAct’s quantitative goals regardless of what DOE does,” says Morris. “On the other hand, the future structure and prosperity of American agriculture may well depend on how DOE, and USDA, craft their biofuels strategy.” For six years, Morris was a member of a Congressionally-created advisory committee that reviewed the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture biomass strategy.
Although EPAct authorizes over $2 billion for incentives, ILSR notes that Congress has yet to appropriate any funds. The appropriation debate will take place this fall. “All Americans should get involved in that debate,” Morris declares. “For it will answer the vital question: Will we have over 1,000 farmer owned biorefineries, allowing virtually all full time farmers in the country to directly benefit from the coming age of biofuels, or will future agriculture look the same as current agriculture, with millions of small producers selling to a handful of dominant processing companies?”