Cantwell Applauds USDA Investment in Accelerating WA’s Aviation Biofuel Production

Cantwell: ‘This investment will help to bolster clean energy jobs’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement that it is partnering with Seattle-based AltAir Fuels to boost production of aviation biofuel with non-food crops grown by Washington state farmers.

The announcement comes two days ahead of a Senate Aviation Subcommittee hearing Cantwell will chair on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. to examine current efforts to develop alternative aviation fuels, the impact of fuel prices on the industry, and obstacles that must be overcome to facilitate their commercialization and adoption throughout the industry. Cantwell is chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation and the Senate Subcommittee on Energy. 

The USDA is establishing a Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project area covering more than 50,000 acres in Washington state, Montana,and California. Participating farmers receive help with start-up costs of planting camelina, a non-food feedstock used in the production of biofuel. According to AltAir, the program is expected to create up to 265 full time jobs, as well as spur an overall economic impact of more than $35 million in the three project areas.

“This investment will help to bolster clean energy jobs and accelerate Washington state’s production of aviation biofuel from non-food crops grown right here at home,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “Growing and producing our own biofuel can get our nation off of foreign oil, boost our own local economies, and reduce our carbon footprint. I applaud AltAir and other Pacific Northwest leaders for leading the way forward in seizing this great economic opportunity for America.”

“The BCAP program award will accelerate the production of sustainable jet fuel, while driving jobs and economic opportunity in rural America,” said Tom Todaro, CEO of AltAir Fuels. “The program will dramatically expand camelina acres by reducing risk for farmers, facilitating production of lower cost feedstock and therefore a commercially viable path to domestic, sustainable fuels that are price competitive with petroleum fuel.”

The BCAP project award will provide funding to support the growing of the feedstock for a refining facility that AltAir is planning to build in Tacoma, Washington. The refinery is scheduled to open its doors in early 2014. Once the facility is operational, it will have the capacity to produce up to 100 million gallons of renewable jet and diesel fuel per year from camelina, which will replace approximately 2.38 million barrels of oil per year. The crop production operations needed to supply this large-scale commercial biorefinery is expected to create approximately 1,200 full-time equivalent jobs in rural areas throughout the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest, and an additional 375 jobs during the design, construction, and operation of the Tacoma facility.

Camelina, grown in rotation with dry wheat, doesn’t compete with food or fresh water resources. As such, camelina is one of the biofuel sources identified for development for commercial use as part of the Sustainable Aviations Fuel Northwest (SAFN), an initiative Cantwell has supported – and urged Obama Administration support of – since its inception last July.

Washington state farmers interested in participating in the state’s BCAP project area should consult the USDA Farm Service Agency website. The sign-up period begins on August 8, 2011 and ends on September 16, 2011.

Cantwell, chair of the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and member of the Senate Finance Committee, has long supported the development and commercialization of biofuel to help reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels and better protect the environment. Starting in 2004, Cantwell has brought together Washington businesses, farmers, investors, and fuel consumers to help create a Washington biofuels industry. In 2005, Cantwell brokered a landmark agreement for the Port of Seattle and its clients to buy one million gallons of biodiesel per year. In addition, Senator Cantwell helped facilitate the construction of one of the biggest biodiesel facilities in the United States in Grays Harbor, as well as secured funding to help Washington state ferries figure out if they could use locally-produced biofuels. In 2007, she helped author the Renewable Fuels Standard, which, along with increasing vehicle fuel economy standards, are the only two policies proven to reduce our nation’s dangerous overdependence on foreign oil.