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Vilsack hopes biodiesel incentive will be extended

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he’s confident Congress will act early in the new year to extend the tax incentive for soy biodiesel.

“We’re obviously encouraged by comments from congressional leaders that it’s their intention to take this matter—the tax extenders—up by the end of next month,” Vilsack says, “which will hopefully be in time that there isn’t any significant disruption in the market.”

Some industry analysts predict many biodiesel plants will be forced to shut down when that tax incentive expires on December 31st.

At a news conference in Des Moines Monday, Vilsack also talked about a new Obama administration report on biofuels to be released in January.  He says it’s a collaboration between USDA, EPA and Energy.

“Within the Obama administration, the president tasked myself, (Energy) Secretary (Stephen) Chu and (EPA) administrator (Lisa) Jackson to put together a task force report on biofuels generally, which we will probably be issuing next month,” he says, “(outlining) ways in which we can be an even better partner with the industry than we’ve been.”

And Vilsack hinted the report will put more emphasis on advanced biofuels.  “I think we’re going to see a significant emphasis on biofuels, on second and third generation feedstocks—this is an exciting opportunity for America.”

For example, Vilsack says, he recently visited a facility in southern Virginia where the manure from a dairy operation was being converted into ethanol.  And he took the opportunity to slip in a plug for cap and trade.

“And then the byproduct of that process is a thing called BioChar, which can be applied as a fertilizer—non-petroleum based fertilizer—to certain crop ground,” says Vilsack, “and that in turn could potentially qualify for offsets under any kind of Clean Energy legislation.”

Earlier in the day Monday, Vilsack visited a Des Moines grocery store where he discussed the important role of good nutrition in the overall health care debate.  He says the USDA will launch a “Health Initiatives Program” in 2010, whereby states will be able to apply for 20 million dollars in federal grants to test projects that get consumers to buy more fruits and vegetables.

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