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USDA announces plan to invest $1.6 billion in renewable fuels

USDA plans to propose $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy, with a focus on cellulosic energy research and production, as part of the Bush administration's 2007 farm bill proposals.

The funding would be part of President Bush's plan to reduce U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years and would complement renewable energy-related efforts under way at USDA.

In his State of the Union Address, Bush explained his vision for energy independence in the United States, including $2 billion in cellulosic production loan guarantees.

His proposals also include a new alternative fuels standard, which contains a requirement for sources produced by American farmers and ranchers as well as an automatic “safety valve” to protect against unforeseen increases in the prices of alternative fuels or their feedstocks.

“It remains a priority across USDA to support the development of biofuels. We will continue to build on current programs and turn the corner on renewable energy,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “With biofuels coming to the forefront, American agriculture faces the greatest opportunity of a generation to lead a future in which we get our energy by the bushel and not by the barrel.”

Following are examples of USDA's projects under way and accomplishments to date:

  • USDA issued a formal request for information to initiate discussion with private sector partners to establish a biofuels pumping station in Washington D.C., which would serve the general public and more than 800 flex fuel vehicles in the federal fleet.

  • In 2006, USDA launched BioPreferred, a program to increase the use of biobased products by federal agencies. USDA has developed an easy access online designated biobased product catalog as a resource of identifying biobased products.

  • USDA spent nearly $1.7 billion on energy-related programs between 2001 and 2005. In 2006 alone, USDA spent more than $270 million on these programs in areas such as commercialization, research, infrastructure development, and technical support. Currently, there are 110 operational ethanol plants in 19 states with another 73 under construction.

  • In 2005, Secretary Johanns appointed a USDA Energy Council for the purpose of coordinating and examining departmental programs and authorities, ensuring they fit into a comprehensive energy strategy.

  • In 2000, USDA established the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, an interagency working group with the Department of Energy, to coordinate and accelerate all federal biobased products and bioenergy research and development.

  • Last October, Bush offered the keynote address at the Advanced Renewable Energy Conference, hosted by USDA and the Department of Energy. The joint conference brought representatives of government and industry, as well as key stakeholders from the financial, agricultural and energy sectors, to address the challenges and opportunities to advance renewable energy.

  • USDA's Agriculture Research Service scientists have developed improved fermentation organisms and are making other significant steps toward achieving the technology needed for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. ARS scientists have genetically modified a strain of lactic acid bacteria that increased levels of ethanol from cellulosic biomass. The research findings demonstrate that metabolic engineering has the potential to create new biocatalysts to convert biomass to biofuels.

Johanns plans to provide additional information about the proposal to provide $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy within the next few weeks when he unveils the administration's full package of 2007 farm bill proposals.

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