Dept. of Agriculture Gives $235 Million Loan to Ethanol Company

by Greg Pollowitz

So, just how many federal agencies are going to play venture capitalist? The Oregonian reports:

In a few years, you could be filling up with fuel made from Oregon poplar trees, wheat straw and corn stalks.

Financed in part with a $235 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today, ZeaChem plans a $390 million biofuel refinery in Boardman capable of producing up to 25 million gallons of ethanol per year.
The Colorado-based energy company expects to be producing fuel and valuable by-products by late 2014. It’s the third U.S. commercial-scale advanced biofuel refinery on the drawing boards.
The plant in Boardman, a town of about 3,500 along the Columbia River in eastern Oregon, will make what’s called cellulosic ethanol. Unlike conventional corn ethanol, it uses wood, switchgrass and agricultural waste instead of food for fuel. Production also generates considerably less greenhouse gas, ZeaChem said, and uses less water.
The plant will create 65 local jobs and 118 construction jobs, the company said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said producing biofuels is a national security matter, crucial to reducing dependence on foreign oil. Such projects create jobs in rural areas and are more environmentally friendly than corn refineries, he said.
Ooooh! 65 jobs. Here’s a question for Tom Vilsack: Why is he loaning money to a company partially owned by oil giant Valero Energy? From ZeaChem’s “Investors” section on their website:

Valero Energy Corporation is a Fortune 500 company based in San Antonio, Texas, and incorporated in Delaware. Valero’s common stock is listed for trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “VLO.” The company has approximately 22,000 employees and assets valued at $38 billion. The largest refiner in North America, Valero has an extensive refining system with a throughput capacity of approximately 3.1 million barrels per day. The company’s geographically diverse refining network stretches from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast and West Coast to the Caribbean.

Valero has long been recognized throughout the industry as a leader in the production of premium, environmentally clean products, such as reformulated gasoline, California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase II gasoline, low-sulfur diesel and oxygenates.

If ZeaChem thinks their idea is so dandy, then let them raise the funds for the plant from their current investors and leave us taxpayers out of it.

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