Helping Farmers Do Their Part

A Voluntary Renewable Fuel Certification Program

Carolyn Brickey and Jake Caldwell on an on-the-ground farmer-driven plan that will help the U.S. combat global warming.

As Congress considers comprehensive energy legislation this week and the House Agriculture Committee continues its work to mark up the 2007 Farm Bill, the Center for American Progress is convinced that sustainably produced biofuels have a vital role to play in our agriculture and energy future.

Biofuels—liquid fuels produced from agricultural crops and wastes—have the potential to deliver a secure and stable supply of fuel to supplement our growing energy demands. Yet for homegrown fuels to be sustainable and truly provide a long-term economic boost to rural communities, we must harness consumer choice and the marketplace to grow biofuel feedstocks—such as corn—in compliance with meaningful environmental standards. We must also begin to move rapidly and deliberately toward the commercial development of the next generation of biofuels—advanced cellulosic biofuels derived from bulk plant matter, such as corn stover and other dedicated energy crops.

Sustainably produced biofuels can make a key contribution to diversifying our energy sources and meaningfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

The Center for American Progress has a bold idea to ensure biofuels meet their potential and that farming communities and the nation as a whole reap the rewards.

The program is called the Voluntary Renewable Fuels Certification Program. This is how it works: A farmer decides to grow a crop to be sold as a “green” renewable biofuel crop. In growing his or her traditional or dedicated energy crop, the producer follows broad-based and widely accepted standards needed to attain certification. As the crop is grown, the farmer has the crop inspected by an independent third-party certifier. If the crop passes the tests conducted by the inspector, the crop will be certified and the appropriate documentation will be issued to the farmer.

The farmer takes the crop to a nearby biorefinery or processing facility. He or she produces the certificate and other documentation for the crop. The farmer is paid a contract rate plus an agreed-upon premium for the crop. At the biorefinery, the crop is processed and allowed to be blended with a conventionally grown biofuel according to a specific formula. As the certification program evolves, the percentage of acceptable “green” biofuel product to be blended with conventional biofuels can be steadily increased to allow for ever-increasing levels of sustainable biofuel in the final product.

The resulting product is sold as a premium “green” product.

In order to boost demand for the premium product in a relatively new industry, government purchasing programs such as the existing Biobased Purchasing Program in the current Farm Bill and other programs can be enlisted to require that the blended “green” product be used for government fleets and all other compatible government fuel needs. It is important that these government procurement programs receive adequate funding and priority attention for improved implementation from the responsible federal agencies.

Private companies may also earn a green star or other awards for requiring that this product be purchased for all of their energy and fleet vehicle needs. Private utilities and other trade associations would also be eligible to participate in the program.

With leadership and political will, an innovative and cost-efficient certification program like this could be up and running in a year. The Center for American Progress is actively working to help Congress and the current administration establish and create such a program.

The biofuel certification program must meet two vital tests: The program must be easy for farmers and producers to access and the program must be simple and relatively inexpensive to administer. In due course, the United States will be able to reach out to other nations and lead the world in establishing a truly open and transparent international certification program that will facilitate the growth of a global market in sustainable biofuels.

Current energy policy is clearly not working. Over 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the current administration handles energy policy, and 67 percent of Americans across the political spectrum want the federal government to increase funding for biofuel research. It is time for the government to listen to the American people and get serious about enacting change. It is time to support sustainable production of biofuels.

The establishment and implementation of the Center for American Progress’s Voluntary Renewable Fuels Certification Program will help us meet many of our objectives in the 2007 Farm Bill. With this program, we can ensure greater investment in sustainably produced renewable biofuels, further incentive payments to farmers to encourage value-added products, promote local farmer-owned biorefineries and processing facilities, and give farmers the opportunity to contribute their know-how and resources to combat climate change. This is an on-the-ground farmer-driven program that is simple, accountable, and compatible with the efforts of the United States and other nations to reduce global warming.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.