Kevin Drum says:
I don’t know if George Bush loves switchgrass because he got a visit from the switchgrass lobby or because someone just whispered the word in his ear, but who cares?
Well, if you happen to care, you may be interested in what David Bransby, professor of energy crops at Auburn University, said Wednesday on NPR’s All Things Considered. He has called and emailed regularly with the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). One of the last emails claimed, in Bransby’s words, that switchgrass "was a last minute inclusion in the speech, and it was Senator Sessions that helped get it into there." Sessions’ spokesflack later confirmed that Sessions had a heart-to-heart with Al Hubbard, the chairman of Bush’s National Economic Council, last Friday.
This AP story has Sessions reacting enthusiastically:
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions praised the president’s plans for energy reform, saying his goal to replace more than 75 percent of the country’s oil imports from the Middle East by 2025 is a "big challenge" but one that Alabama could play a role in accomplishing.
"He really made some big commitments concerning bio fuels," Sessions, R-Mobile, said. "He talked about using wood chips and switch grass (in ethanol production) and Alabama’s got great potential for that."
Sessions said he’s supported research at Auburn University involving switch grass for the past several years, and "it looks like we’re at a point where ‘swithcraft’ could help."
Why might Sessions be so psyched about switchgrass?
Well, in 1999 he said:
Some say wind, solar, and biomass technologies are the way to meet our air pollution goals. I know of some good research projects. One in my home state uses switch grass and coal to help produce electricity. It is an environmentally friendly project, and I hope it will be successful.
In 2005, he was one sponsor of the …
… Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, which would direct the White House Office of Management and Budget to publish a plan to reduce oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016 and 10 million barrels daily by 2031. …. The targets could be achieved with cars that burn ethanol and other alternative fuels, hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric cars, and fuel cells.
Many of the Senate bill’s sponsors are from states where farming and forestry are important components of their economies.
Alabama Power company, one of the Department of Energy’s "Green Power Partners," offers a Renewable Energy Rate that gives residential customers the option of purchasing blocks of renewable energy. According to DoE, "the initial source of the green power will be Alabama-grown switchgrass co-fired in a utility-owned coal-fired power plant."
It looks like the Senator from Alabama may be responsible for one of the most left-field phrases in recent SOTU memory — a real teleprompter-squinter for Bush.
(Incidentally, is it me, or is Bush’s energy policy nothing but spastic flailing toward this well-connected special interest and that? There’s no other discernable pattern.)
One last thing Kevin says I would take some issue with:
If the left loves ethanol for environmental reasons and the right loves it so we don’t have to buy so much oil from Saudi Arabia, maybe there’s a deal to be made.
I don’t know about "the left," but I don’t think smart environmentalists "love ethanol" — not without qualification. In reality, "ethanol" in the context of American politics means domestic ethanol, and that means corn-based ethanol. Corn is already heavily subsidized and grown by some of the worst actors in the corporate world, and as a chemical-heavy, soil-depleting monoculture, it’s not exactly an unmixed environmental blessing.
I would love ethanol if it were cellulosic, but right now it’s not, and I’ve yet to hear anything more than techno-optimism about how “wood chips, stalks, and switch grass” are going to get more voluminous and cheap than corn any time soon.