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Biofuels part of climate plan

Top administration officials, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, shared more details Wednesday on how President Barack Obama's plan to fight carbon pollution may be put into effect.

Just last year, weather-related disasters cost the nation more than $100 billion, said Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

Of that, the USDA spent some $2 billion fighting forest fires, and $17 billion went to pay for crop insurance claims, Vilsack said.

No single weather event can be attributed to climate change, but Vilsack said that the shift in extremes, from the 2012 drought to this year's storms is consistent with climate studies that project increasingly volatile weather.

"This is a real issue. It is something that requires immediate attention," Vilsack said.

Vilsack said the USDA is already working in rural America to help rural electric co-ops finance home improvements that save energy and to help build 80 methane digesters around the nation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms.

Vilsack said USDA is also making loans and grants to biofuel producers that are starting to make energy from crop wastes.

He didn't mention the Renewable Fuel Standard, a key part of the 2007 energy law administered by EPA. But the White House did in "The President's Climate Action Plan" released on Tuesday.

"Biofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector," the plan says. "That is why the Administration supports the Renewable Fuels Standard, and is investing in research and development to help bring next-generation biofuels on line."

That drew praise from biofuel groups, including the Advanced Ethanol Council.

"The advanced ethanol industry stands behind the Obama Administration in their effort to address climate change," said Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC) executive director Brooke Coleman. "The President is right to identify the Renewable Fuel Standard and existing federal regulations as critical to the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. Pound for pound, advanced ethanol is the most carbon reductive alternative to gasoline in the world, and the RFS is driving the commercial deployment of our industry."

This comes just after even better news for the ethanol industry: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court made public its refusal to hear a challenge by the oil industry to the EPA approval of the sale of 15% ethanol blends (E15).

"Oil companies have spent more time and money trying to stop E15 in the courts than they have on complying with the RFS, which ensures consumers have access to affordable choices such as E15, E85, and E30," said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). "During this time, ACE has been working with many petroleum marketers who are successfully offering their customers choices between straight gasoline and ethanol-blends, and in every case, ethanol-blended fuel is the most popular choice. We will continue to help retailers make more money and pass savings on to consumers by offering the choice of E15."

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