Massachusetts Mulls Law to Require Biofuel Blends

Gov. Deval Patrick and top lawmakers want to put Massachusetts on the clean energy map by requiring biofuel blends in home heating oil and providing tax incentives for producers of more efficient ethanol technology, known as cellulosic ethanol.

The state would be the first to require all diesel and home heating fuel sold in Massachusetts to contain a minimum amount of bio-based alternatives in their blends, as well as the first to provide incentives for cellulosic ethanol production, Patrick said.

"For the sake of environment, our economy and our nation security, we must act and we must act now," the Democratic governor said Monday at news conference. "We see opportunities to create jobs, drive energy costs down, sharpen our competitive edge at home and promote environmental stewardship around the world."

The bill, introduced with Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, sets standards of a 2 percent blend by 2010, increasing to 5 percent in 2013, in all diesel and home heating fuel.

Ethanol currently is made from corn. Future sources include cellulosic feedstock such as switchgrass, a hardy prairie grass in great abundance, and wood chips and corn stems.

Currently, such renewable energy sources supply only about 6 percent of America's energy needs, according to the federal government.

Massachusetts is the third largest home heating oil market in nation, according to the Northeast Biofuels Collaborative.

Brooke Coleman of the collaborative described the bill as an economic development tool, rather than an environmental effort. "It's a guaranteed market for bio-based fuel," he said. "It's a huge spark for the industry locally."

Samuel Krasnow, spokesman for Environment Northeast, said the bill is a disappointment because there's no standards to reduce pollution. "There should be a requirement that there be a net reduction of greenhouse gases," he said.

Minnesota and Iowa are leaders in biofuel leaders. New York last year announced a $20 million program to develop cellulosic ethanol. Texas also is focusing on creating biofuels through cellulosic feedstock.