Baldacci: Maine poised to benefit from biofuels

Posted Feb. 03, 2010, at 9:16 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A presidential energy task force is recommending spending more money to make biofuels, a move that Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday should help Maine’s forestry and papermaking industries.

After a meeting with Baldacci and 10 other governors from energy producing states, President Barack Obama pushed energy proposals calling for increased biofuel and ethanol production and new technology to limit pollution from the use of coal.

“We cannot afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds forward,” Obama said, referring to the task force’s report outlining how the United States’ production of fuel from plants or animals was unlikely to meet the goal Congress has demanded. The current production of 12 billion gallons annually is hardly the 36 billion that lawmakers have mandated by 2022.

The task force presented its report to the president Wednesday and recommended more aid for the biofuel industry with a combination of federal dollars and private-sector investments.

The president also announced a new task force to study coal’s role in the nation’s energy needs.

In a telephone interview Wednesday evening, Baldacci said he was pleased with the package of initiatives unveiled during his briefing with the president and that he believes Maine is well positioned to benefit from the focus on biofuels. The initiative should be particularly welcome in Maine’s mill towns, many of which have struggled during the recession.

“I talked with the president about how Maine has 19 million acres of forestland, and we have terrific pulp and paper production,” Baldacci said.

Researchers at the University of Maine and at companies such as Old Town Fuel & Fiber in the town’s former Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill are developing technology to turn wood or the waste from the pulping process into fuels. At the same time, timberland owners are hoping to capitalize on the growing interest in using forest biomass for fuel.

The Obama administration’s biofuel task force — led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — recommended the government make certain that fuels produced with U.S. backing be compatible with the current fleet of cars on the road and that agencies recognize their limits. Otherwise, the efforts would be a waste of time, research and tax dollars, the task force said.

Vice President Joseph Biden, who also attended Wednesday’s meeting with the bipartisan group of governors, said the $80 billion being invested in clean energy through the stimulus package includes $600 million for biofuels projects in states across the nation.

“We’re now on track to go from zero — zero commercial-scale biofuel refineries — to 19 by the year 2012,” Biden said.

Baldacci said that whether people agree or disagree with the scientific predictions about the threat posed by global warming, people have to agree on the importance of reducing the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

“Now, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to work together in a bipartisan way to get this done,” Obama said during the meeting in the White House’s State Dining Room. “It’s good for our national security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It’s good for our economy, because it will produce jobs.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said new rules on biofuels being put in place by her agency would reduce oil dependence by millions of barrels a year and “help bring new economic opportunity to millions of Americans, particularly in rural America.”

In his meeting with the governors, Obama also announced a new task force to study ways to increase the use of coal in meeting the nation’s energy needs without increasing the pollution that contributes to global warming.

“It’s been said that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and that’s because … it’s one of our most abundant energy resources,” Obama said. “If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future.”

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