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Biofuels innovation proposal mixes habitat protection with energy independence


Legislation supports cellulosic fuel production

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2007 - Ducks Unlimited applauds a new cellulosic fuels proposal introduced by two members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sens. John Thune (SD) and Ben Nelson (NE) are pushing for the Biofuels Innovation Program and for incorporation into the energy title of the 2007 Farm Bill.

The Thune-Nelson bill (S. 36) seeks to prevent the conversion of native perennial grasses to biofuel crops and encourages the establishment of native grasses on existing cropland. If properly managed, these newly established native grasslands will provide vital habitat for waterfowl and other birds in the Prairie Pothole Region.

"Ducks Unlimited thanks Senators Thune and Nelson for their leadership in promoting a responsible manner for developing the next generation of renewable fuels using dedicated perennial feedstocks,” said Jeff Nelson, director of DU’s Great Plains Regional Office. “The Biofuels Innovation Program addresses concerns of the industry, producers, the environment and wildlife populations, and is an important step in moving the nation toward energy independence.”

Jeff Nelson says DU looks forward to working with the Senators and other Members of Congress on this and other energy and conservation issues as the farm bill develops.

Under the Thune-Nelson legislation, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would designate sites for biorefineries and would help nearby farmers plant a cellulosic biofuels crop for five years, or as long as it takes to build the biorefinery. After the refinery is completed, the rental payments would begin to phase out. However, USDA would pay producers $45 per ton of biomass for an additional two years.

“It would help solve the ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ problem of developing the cellulosic ethanol industry,” Sen. Nelson said. “How do you start commercial production without a guaranteed supply of biomass, and how do you encourage farmers to grow biomass without the refinery market?”

DU’s Nelson says decades of research reinforce the overwhelming importance of large expanses of perennial grasses to the wildlife and environment of the Northern Great Plains.

“Many species in the Prairie Pothole Region evolved with the prairie and only nest in these diverse, natural grasslands,” he said. “As the opportunity for perennial energy crops unfolds, DU is optimistic that the conversion of cropland to perennial grasses will provide tremendous benefits to nesting waterfowl and other wildlife. On the other hand, we are also very concerned about our existing native prairie and want to ensure that it is not tilled to produce energy crops or subjected to annual harvest for use at these new biorefineries.”

Becky Jones Mahlum
Manager of Communications
Ducks Unlimited
Great Plains Regional Office
2525 River Road, Bismarck, ND 58503

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.


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