No new 60 billion-gallon requirement
As a candidate in the 2008 election, Barack Obama outlined an energy agenda to wean the United States off foreign oil while tackle growing concerns about climate change. Part of his plan involved producing more advanced biofuels than ever before.
As we explained in our last post on this promise, advanced biofuels are often made from agricultural leftovers such as corn stalks, wood chips and even algae. They are different from biofuels that come from the starch in corn kernels and are mixed with conventional gasoline or diesel. In general, advanced biofuels result in less greenhouse gas emissions but cost more to produce.
During his campaign, Obama noted that Congress was proposing performance targets -- now in the books -- calling for a dramatic expansion of advanced biofuel production, from 600 million gallons in 2009 to 21 billion by 2022. We created the chart below using Congress' annual goals in billions of gallons per year to show the intended arc of increases over time. The red square shows the 60 billion-gallon promise by Obama. You can see that his goal would mean reaching 30 times the current annual supply within 18 years.
Obviously, we cannot grade the president on achieving this long-term goal -- Obama won't be in the White House in 2030. Whoever is the president might very well meet that standard.
However, on a fact sheet about his energy policies, Obama said he would seek to "establish a requirement to produce at least 60 billion gallons of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, by 2030.” But he hasn't done so.
We've noted in other posts about Obama's pledges for cellulosic biofuel and fuel economy standards that the federal government uses performance targets and an array of tax incentives, loan guarantee programs, grants, and even a tariff to benefit the production of advanced biofuels. For the most part, the Obama administration has merely maintained existing programs started under President George W. Bush. One exception is an infusion of $786.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus, for Energy Department programs on advanced biofuels.
It's also worth noting that in 2011 Obama directed the Energy, Agriculture, Defense, and Navy departments to invest $510 million over three years for the construction or retrofit of commercial advanced biofuel production facilities for marine and aviation transportation.
Obama pledged to establish a new requirement for 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, and he hasn't. But he has acted as steward to an array of advanced biofuel policies established shortly before he took office. We rate this a Compromise.
Department of Agriculture, Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture, June 28, 2011
110th Congress, Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
Congressional Research Services, Cellulosic Biofuels: Analysis of Policy Issues for Congress, Jan. 13, 2011
PolitiFact, Obama supports biofuel production incentives, Oct. 12, 2009
Obama supports biofuel production incentives
On the campaign trail, Barack Obama made a lot of promises about renewable fuels, including one about producing 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2030.
Before we dig into this promise, it's useful to sort through a little treehugger jargon. Advanced biofuels are not just any biofuels; they're often made from agricultural leftovers, such as corn stalks, wood chips and even algae. Because advanced biofuels don't necessarily require precious farmland, fertilizer and fossil fuels to grow, they're arguably better for the environment.
That said, there are some hurdles to making advanced biofuels. Generally speaking, the production process is still expensive and more complicated than, say, making corn ethanol.
The Obama administration has been taking steps here and there to accelerate advanced biofuel research and development and to expand commercialization.
The stimulus bill, for example, was full of incentives for advanced biofuels — about $786.5 million to be exact. The money is meant to find ways to make advanced biofuels cheaper, faster and more abundant, according to a White House news release.
The Department of Energy is also in the process of expanding the Renewable Fuel Standard, an existing mandate that requires gasoline to be blended with ethanol or diesel with biodiesel, from 9 billion gallons of blended fuel to 36 billion gallons by 2022. (With the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA is required to make these changes.)
Under the new requirement, certain amounts of advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol — ethanol that's made from wood and grass, among other things — would be required every year. For example, by 2016, gasoline will be blended with 4.25 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 7.25 billion gallons of advanced biofuels. Those amounts would increase to 5.5 billion gallons and 9 billion gallons in 2017, respectively.
So, while the Renewable Fuels Standard increases the amount of advanced biofuels we create and use in the United States, Obama's mandates so far fall short of his original promise. We're going to keep our eye on this promise, but for now, we'll move it to In the Works.
White House, President Obama Announces Steps to Support Sustainable Energy Options , accessed Oct. 12, 2009
Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Proposes New Regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard Program for 2010 and Beyond , accessed Oct. 12, 2009