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Obama Eyes Biofuels, Clean Coal in New Climate Push

by Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama announced new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with "clean coal" technology on Wednesday in his latest move to keep climate change at the top of the country's political agenda.

The administration also outlined a strategy to boost biofuels production, seeking to nudge the country toward energy independence while balancing the environmental costs of grain-based motor fuels.

The moves are part of Obama's effort to gain more votes for a climate bill stalled in the Senate that will seek to boost production of clean, low-carbon energy and help the country reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

The climate bill faces further obstacles after the election last month in Massachusetts that gave Republicans a Senate seat long held by Democrats, depriving the president's party of 60 votes that could overcome procedural hurdles.

"Today I'm announcing a carbon capture and storage task force that will be charged with ... figuring out how we can deploy affordable clean coal technology," on a wide spread scale within 10 years, Obama said during a meeting with a handful of state governors at the White House.

"We want to get up 10 commercial demonstration projects -- get those up and running by 2016."

Carbon capture and storage is meant to capture the emissions from carbon-polluting coal plants and bury them underground rather than spewing them into the atmosphere but the technology is still in the process of being researched.

BIOFUELS

The biofuels strategy, which also aims to boost jobs as the country faces double-digit unemployment, is laid out in a report by the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, a body the president established to help spur investment in biofuels and make the industry more environmentally friendly.

The goal is straightforward: getting the country on track to meet a congressional goal of producing 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) of biofuels a year by 2022.

"This is a substantial goal, but one that the U.S. can meet or beat. However, past performance and business as usual will not get us there," the report said.

The United States is far away from its target now, currently producing 12 billion gallons per year, mostly from corn ethanol.

The report offers solutions that would iron out problems in getting ethanol from producers in the U.S. Midwest to consumers near the coasts.

Such snags include filling stations that have been slow to adopt pumps to distribute a fuel blend that is mostly ethanol, called E85, and a lack of dedicated pipelines for biofuels.

In addition, loan guarantees for ethanol plants could be targeted more effectively to support new biofuels plants, the report said.

The president is pushing for the United States to overhaul its energy habits by switching to less-polluting fuels and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.

The departments of agriculture and energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will work together to create a regional supply chain to make sure all parts of the country will make biofuels markets more robust, the report said.

(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by bill Trott)

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