Obama Proposes Creating Jobs from Dead Trees
Are biofuels the key to waking the sleeping job market?
Today, President Obama announced a new plan to create jobs and energy from "drop-in biofuels," a replacement for petroleum-based gasoline, the kind that we've been buying from mad dictators in the Middle East for decades, financing their oppressive and terroristic policies. Under this plan, the federal departments of Agriculture, Energy and the Navy will all kick in $510 million to entice biofuel companies to ramp up their production of fuel from biomass resources, namely dead plants and trees, for use in military and commercial transportation vehicles -- mainly our planes and trains.
Why should we care? Because if this pilot is able to take off, then the Obama Administration will change the game in terms of creating new jobs, markets and industries on renewable energy sources, and helping get us off our foreign oil addiction.
But before getting too excited, here's what you need to know about the plan:
* One cool part about this is that many of the jobs created from this venture will come from building the settings and capacity for developing biofuels. Since there aren't that many biofuels refinery plants in existence right now, this plan will help finance the retro-fitting and conversion of buildings into these kinds of refineries. Such construction and retro-fitting jobs often are available for low- or mid-skilled laborers, meaning you don't need an advanced degree in science to apply.
* The federal departments are each supposed to dole out $170 million from their respective already-authorized budgets. However, this is just start-up money. As with all government job-creation policies, private companies will need to step up and invest to make this energy- and job-creation market work. Right now the White House is expecting dollar-for-dollar matches from industry.
* $510 million is a drop in a bucket compared to the amount we spend importing oil -- $300 billion -- and also the amount we subsidize oil companies with: about $4 billion a year on average.
* The financial agreement is non-binding. Any of the federal departments can pull out at any point, and their split depends on the availability of funds. Meaning if they can't find any companies willing to match funds, or some other funding priority takes hold from one of the federal stakeholders, than this gig comes to an end. At best, it becomes an underfunded program.
* This plan is focused on rural areas, and many African Americans who live in the Southern states live in rural areas where poverty and unemployment is heavily pronounced. Just because this is a non-urban jobs program doesn't mean it will only help white people.
* Biofuels are controversial because they normally refer to ethanol, which causes farms to develop corn for energy purposes rather than feeding purposes, putting the two markets in direct competition with each other, and often driving corn costs up. In Iowa, where Obama is today for the White House Rural Economic Forum, ethanol is a huge commodity, using 58% of its corn crop for it this year. This is also the state that all of the presidential candidates want to keep happy. However, the criteria set for the retro-fitted refinery plants under this plan asks that "no significant impact on the supply of agricultural commodities for the production of food," happen to create these biofuels.