Ethanol producers and corn farmers who were hoping for President Obama to make a strong show of support for the ethanol industry when he appeared at a POET plant in Missouri on Wednesday were probably a little disappointed. Yes, he made the appearance and said that “renewable, homegrown fuels are a key part of our strategy for a clean energy future” – but that was about it.
The entire speech, minus introductions, was only 10 minutes long and most of it was spent talking about the economy. About three minutes were spent on what the administration has done to promote renewable energy with the economic recovery act, the Biofuels Working Group and the Navy using biofuel in a new jet. However, there was no mention at all of the top priorities for the ethanol industry – getting the tax incentives renewed and the E15 waiver approved. Without those actions, the future of the ethanol industry is questionable.
The president only used the word ethanol five times, but preferred the more generic “biofuels” which was used nine times. Once, when he strayed from his prepared remarks, he used the word “biodiesel” apparently by mistake, saying “I want us to be first when it comes to biodiesel and the technologies that are being developed in places like POET.”
It is also notable that the president did not even mention the word corn, even though he was standing next to a big front end loader filled with it. The word agriculture was used only in reference to the U.S. Secretary and state director of agriculture present at the event. Farmers were only referenced in terms of the “tough time” they were having “getting by” when he was running for office.
The good news is that POET president Jeff Broin did get a chance to speak briefly with the president about the industry’s concerns. “We talked about the fact that cellulosic ethanol had the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that there were some policy issues that are very important to move that forward, the first being the fact that today the market is full,” said Broin. “Basically ten percent ethanol is what’s allowed in gasoline today and we need to move that wall and open up the market.” However, Broin says he only had a limited amount of time to talk with the president and was not able to address the ethanol tax incentive issue, but he did discuss it with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
One can be hopeful that meeting real workers with real jobs at a real ethanol plant in a small rural community made an impression on the president and he makes the connection between that and the need to provide real support to keep the industry growing.