Biofuels Digest’s 10-Minute Guide to Obama’s New Energy Policy

| March 18, 2013

obama-argonneMajor push from Obama on energy.

From DOE: “Liquid fuels demand can be sufficiently reduced so that biomass can meet all liquid fuel needs.”

What’s up? What is an Energy Security Trust, anyway? The Digest’s 10-Minute Guide tells all.

In an address at the Argonne National Laboratories on Friday, President Obama said:

“You see, after years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to take control of our energy future.  We produce more oil than we have in 15 years.  We import less oil than we have in 20 years…But the only way we’re going to break this cycle of spiking gas prices for good is to shift our cars and trucks off of oil for good.  That’s why, in my State of the Union Address, I called on Congress to set up an Energy Security Trust to fund research into new technologies that will help us reach that goal.

“I’m proposing that we take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public, so that we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit…devising new ways to fuel our cars and trucks with new sources of clean energy – like advanced biofuels and natural gas – so drivers can one day go coast-to-coast without using a drop of oil.

“And in the meantime, let’s keep moving forward on an all-of-the-above energy strategy.  A strategy where we produce more oil and gas here at home, but also more biofuels and fuel-efficient vehicles; more solar power and wind power. We can do this.”

A companion study released the the Department of Energy was, in its way, more ambitious and more specific: “TEF does not project that all liquid fuels will be eliminated from the future transportation sector, but rather that demand can be sufficiently reduced so that biomass can meet all liquid fuel needs.”

The Energy Security Trust. Is it a new idea?

No. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to create an Energy Security Trust Fund, which would free American families and business from painful spikes in gas prices. The President’s plan builds on an idea that has bipartisan support from experts including retired admirals and generals and leading CEOs, and it focuses on one goal: shifting America’s cars and trucks off oil entirely.

TEF-petroleum

How does it work?

Over 10 years, the Energy Security Trust will provide $2 billion for critical, cutting-edge research focused on developing cost-effective transportation alternatives. The investments will support research into a range of technologies – things like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, and domestically produced natural gas. It will also help fund a small number of real-world experiments that try different transportation techniques in cities and towns around the country using advanced vehicles at scale.

Does it involve new taxes?

No. The funding will be provided by revenues from federal oil and gas development, and will not add any additional costs to the federal budget.

President Obama’s complete remarks are where?

They’re here.

Does the White House’s have a short take on the Energy Security Trust?

Yep. Here you are.

What is the Transport Energy Futures (TEF) study?

It’s a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory that finds the United States has the potential to reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector by more than 80% by 2050 – and proposes pathways towards that goal.

What is the strategy?

• Stopping Growth in Transportation Sector Energy Use
• Using More Biofuels
• Expanding Electric and Hydrogen Technologies

What’s the overall 15-point Obama Energy Strategy, again?

1. Challenges Americans to double renewable electricity generation again by 2020.
2. Directs the Interior Department to make energy project permitting more robust.
3. Commits to safer production and cleaner electricity from natural gas.
4. Supports a responsible nuclear waste strategy.
5. Sets a goal to cut net oil imports in half by the end of the decade.
6. Commits to partnering with the private sector to adopt natural gas and other alternative fuels in the Nation’s trucking fleet.
7. Establishes a new goal to double American energy productivity by 2030.
8. Challenges States to Cut Energy Waste and Support Energy Efficiency and Modernize the Grid.
9. Commits to build on the success of existing partnerships with the public and private sector to use energy wisely.
10. Calls for sustained investments in technologies that promote maximum productivity of energy use and reduce waste.
11. Leads efforts through the Clean Energy Ministerial and other fora to promote energy efficiency and the development and deployment of clean energy.
12. Works through the G20 and other fora toward the global phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
13. Promotes safe and responsible oil and natural gas development.
14. Updates our international capabilities to strengthen energy security.
15. Supports American nuclear exports.

Where’s the Fact Sheet on that?

Right here.

Why the transport sector, specifically?

The transportation sector accounts for 71% of total U.S. petroleum consumption and 33% of U.S. total carbon emissions.

What are the 9 Interconnected reports that make up the overall TEF study?

1. Deployment pathways issues including the development of, transition to, and challenges of advanced technology
2. Non-cost barriers to advanced vehicles such as range anxiety, refueling availability, technology reliability, and consumer familiarity.
3. Opportunities to improve non-light-duty vehicle efficiency for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, off-road vehicles and equipment, aircraft, marine vessels, and railways
4. Opportunities for switching modes of transporting freight, such as moving freight from trucks to rail and ships.
5. Infrastructure expansion required for deployment of low-GHG fuels, including electricity, biofuels, hydrogen, and natural gas
6. Balance of biomass resource demand and supply, including allocations for various transportation fuels, electric generation, and other applications.
7. Opportunities to save energy and abate GHG emissions through community development and built environment strategies
8. Trip reduction through mass transit, tele-working, tele-shopping, carpooling, and improvement of vehicle performance through efficient driving
9. Freight demand patterns, including trends in operational needs and projections of future use levels.

TEF-energy-savings

How much biofuels use does the TEF study anticipate?

Up to 100 percent of fuel needs, if the US hits its 2050 fuel efficiency, hydrogen fuel, and electrification goals as well. Even at the EIA baseline projected fuel demand in 2050, biofuels could supply as much as 50 percent of the jet fuel market, and 30 percent of the gasoline and diesel markets if EERE biofuel technology goals are met. Getting to the point where biomass could provide 100 percent of vehicle liquid fuels requires reducing the need for fuel through the efficiency and demand management measures described above, including deployment of electricity or hydrogen fuel alternatives.

Will this require an avalanche of infrastructure?

Some. “While new fuel types require new infrastructure, the share of infrastructure cost within total fuel costs is very small (1.5-3 percent), and these costs can be made up for in fuel cost savings of more efficient advanced vehicles.”

Where can I start to dig deeper into the overall plan and the TEF study?

You can start here at the TEF home page.

Who was responsible for TEF?

TEF is a collaboration between EERE, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). The project benefitted from the input provided by a steering committee that included some of the nation’s foremost experts on transportation energy from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), academic researchers, and industry associations.

What is NEPA and what is happening there?

NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, a product of the Nixon Administration.

Er, Nixon? What’s new there?

The President’s strategy includes requiring federal agencies, under NEPA’s authority, to include climate change impact in reviewing proposed projects. For example — leases to drill for coal, or export coal to China, or construct oil pipelines like the Keystone XL pipeline, could be reviewed not only for air pollution and water fouling, but for overall greenhouse gas impact.

Are the changes in NEPA reviews ho-hum, or a big deal?

Big deal. Brendan Cummings, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity told Bloomberg that the result will be “a major shakeup in how agencies conduct NEPA” reviews.

Does the President have this authority under NEPA?

Generally, yes. NEPA grants a right of Federal review of proposed projects for environmental impact — and climate change certainly falls broadly within that category. The devil is going to be in the details — after all, how much specific contribution to a problem like climate change be attributed to a single project?

Is a NEPA review capable of derailing a project?

No. A NEPA review is, at the end of the day, aimed at producing a thorough vetting process, rather than a specific outcome. Projects go through NEPA reviews — there is a robust commentary opportunity — but regulators, in the end, make decisions on permits. NEPA does establish a forum for introducing or reviewing data that will be used in a regulator’s decision — or, in lawsuits that may be filed to reverse a ruling.

Overall, is there going to be opposition from the right on the Energy Security Trust?

Forbes’ Houston-based energy columnist Christopher Helman writes: “This is a terrible idea — and a backdoor to the imposition of a nationwide carbon tax — that congress should not allow to pass.

“There is absolutely no reason why we need a dedicated Energy Security Trust to fund the national labs, or to fund any kind of alternative energy research. If congress wants to fund research it can pass a bill to fund research…Isn’t congressional appropriation how the federal government is supposed to pay for such stuff?

“Then consider that the Department of Energy has in recent years built up an insanely terrible record of wasting taxpayer money by directing funds to private companies, many of which have simply gone belly up (but not before paying lavish bonuses to executives).

Why is there opposition from the left?

Here’s some flavor. “This approach will only encourage more dirty energy production…[and] doesn’t create any additional cost for using fossil fuels, thus creating no incentive for firms to divert resources into safer, cleaner and more renewable sources of energy,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program, told bizjournals.com.

 



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