By Neil Munshi, Globe Correspondent
Governor Deval Patrick signed biofuels legislation today that he said will put Massachusetts at the forefront of the clean energy movement.
“It’s law,” he said this afternoon, seated at a table at Mascoma Corp.’s Allston office, flanked by state legislators, his energy secretary and US Representative William D. Delahunt. Mascoma is one of a number of Massachusetts companies pursing so-called “advanced,” or cellulosic, biofuels, which are made from agricultural wastes and forest products rather than corn.
The Clean Energy Biofuels Act will make Massachusetts the first state to exempt cellulosic biofuels from state gas taxes, creating economic incentives for companies while requiring that the fuels meet strict greenhouse gas reduction standards. One of the major concerns with biofuels such as corn-based ethanol is that they raise food prices and -- in their growing and processing -- cause more environmental harm than gasoline.
The law also requires all diesel and home heating fuel to be 2 percent biofuels by 2010 and 5 percent by 2013.
The bill will also make Massachusetts the second state, after California, to require the development of a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles that would reduce greenhouse gases by 10 percent. The Commonwealth will seek to replicate that standard across the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which includes all of New England, as well as New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.
Patrick noted that last November, when Delahunt initiated discussion on biofuel legislation, gas cost an average of $2.96 per gallon. With gas prices over $4, “the economic case for breaking our exclusive dependence on oil is even more compelling today,” he said. He added that biofuels are projected to generate $280 million to $1 billion for the state’s economy by 2025, in part by creating new jobs.
Delahunt, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, contrasted those numbers with the $260 billion the country spent on overseas oil in 2006, and the projected $600 billion the United States will spend this year.
“Clearly, we’ve witnessed already the volatility in the Middle East, and elsewhere, in Africa and South America,” the Quincy Democrat said. “We have to end being a captive, a hostage, of oil –- we have no choice, it is that critical to the security of the United States.”
A new administration in the White House, Delahunt predicted, will take note of the states’ initiative and move toward federal action on biofuels.
“I think the pressure will build,” he said. “Clearly what we’ll start to see is regional initiatives."
The most exciting aspect of the legislation is the proposal to involve the regional initiative in the low carbon emissions standard, said Susan M. Reid, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation.
"It makes sense to move that collaboration to the liquid fuels arena,” she said.
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