If you’re digging around on Tom Vilsack, Obama’s nominee to head USDA, you might want to check out a couple of interviews, both done during his (brief) presidential campaign this year. The short assessment is: He seems committed on climate change and energy security, and committed on vastly ramping up ethanol, and utterly unaware of the tension between those views. Unfortunately at USDA he’ll have a lot more say over the latter.

First an interview by Grist. This seems directly relevant to his new job:

Iowa has a substantial farm industry. What would you do as president to support family and organic farming?

I think it’s a strategy that clearly needs to be part of the agricultural plan for the future. My hope is that we transform from the traditional farm policy to a food-and-farm policy that encourages greater diversity in agriculture, including incentives for food production and enhanced conservation practices. I also think we ought to be looking at changing the way we subsidize agriculture generally, from a commodity-based process to a conservation-based process, which would benefit organic farms as well. I believe this type of transition in farm policy is key to developing opportunities in rural communities.

There’s also an extended exchange on corn ethanol. Here’s one clip:

How long do you think it would take to switch the ethanol industry from corn to cellulosic?

I think it’s pretty clear that it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s beginning to happen, and I think over the course of the next decade you’re going to see the expansion of cellulosic ethanol, no question about it.

So maybe by mid-century we could wean entirely off of corn?

Well, I don’t know, but our goal is to have 60 billion gallons of renewable fuel produced by 2030, and 45 billion of that from non-corn sources such as cellulosic ethanol, bio-butanol, and biodiesel. So we obviously want to be aggressive in terms of promoting this.


Here’s another Vilsack interview from Rolling Stone, where he reveals the significant — and in American political culture, courageous — view that trade barriers to Brazilian cane sugar ethanol ought to come down:

This country probably also needs to take a different view on the sugar-cane ethanol produced in Brazil. We put a big tariff on it. We should look to ultimately eliminating that so that we get the supply of ethanol that lets Detroit produce flex-fuel cars and develop that industry.

I must say, I find it rather difficult to get excited about this guy.