Make America’s fuel part of energy solution

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, July 7, 2010

As millions of Americans celebrate our nation’s independence this week, the continuing devastation from the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a frustrating reminder of just how reliant we are on oil as a key source of America’s energy supply. What’s more, the impact of the Obama administration’s embargo on deepwater drilling further showcases our significant dependence on foreign oil.

Tragically, nothing in recent memory has done more to highlight how important it is for policy makers in Washington to once and for all ensure that domestic ethanol is a cornerstone of America’s long-term energy plan.

Congress is expected to debate new energy legislation when it returns to Washington from the July 4 recess. Expanding the production and use of America’s domestic ethanol needs to be a serious part of this serious conversation.

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Today, ethanol is the only available, affordable alternative to oil. In 2009, the ethanol industry contributed $53.3 billion to the nation’s GDP, generated $8.4 billion in federal tax revenues and created and supported more than 400,000 jobs across the country — over 70,000 of which are right here in Minnesota.

Homegrown ethanol has not only demonstrated the promise of stimulating the economy but also improving our air. In 2009 alone, the production and use of 10.6 billion gallons of ethanol reduced CO2-equivalent GHG emissions by approximately 16.5 million tons in the U.S., the equivalent of removing more than 2.7 million cars from America’s roadways.

And rather than sending more American families’ hard-earned money to foreign countries (some of which are currently sponsoring our enemies) every time they fill up at the pump — the domestic production of nearly 10.6 billion gallons of ethanol eliminated the need to import at least 364 million barrels of oil, keeping $21.3 billion in the U.S. economy.

The progress is impressive. But we can and should do more with more innovative policies from Congress and a regulatory environment that fosters additional growth.

First, we must let the market work by lifting the government’s arbitrarily-created regulatory cap on ethanol. By increasing the blend level of ethanol in gasoline from its current level of 10 percent to 15 percent, we will create more than 136,000 jobs, inject $24.4 billion into the U.S. economy, displace seven billion gallons of imported gasoline per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons per year.

Unfortunately, federal approval of this simple change that was requested by Growth Energy continues to experience one bureaucratic delay after the next. A decision that should have been rendered by Washington at the end of last year was recently delayed yet again without any meaningful explanation by the Department of Energy.

With the overwhelming body of science on the public record supporting this change, coupled with the clear economic and environmental benefits of ethanol, it’s past time for Washington to give it its seal of approval.

Beyond allowing higher ethanol blends in our fuel, we must create an infrastructure in which American motorists can more readily use an alternative fuel. For instance, all cars sold in America should be “flex-fuel” vehicles, and we should support significantly wider usage of “blender pumps” at gas stations so that motorists can choose for themselves the most suitable fuel at the best value.

Finally, Congress should move quickly to renew the import tariff and blenders’ tax credit which enable our industry to grow without interference from subsidized foreign ethanol. A recent University of Missouri analysis found that Minnesota would see staggering job losses of 13,597 and an economic decline of over $3.1 billion in only three years after the tariff lapses.

Ethanol represents America’s best renewable, affordable and reliable fuel. It will help grow our economy, increase our energy independence and it’s environmentally friendly. Now is the time, while the consequences of our oil addiction are so disturbingly and destructively clear for our leaders in Washington, to act appropriately by taking decisive action to ensure ethanol becomes a lasting cornerstone of a cleaner and more secure energy future for America.

Brad Nelson of Albert Lea is the president of the Minnesota Ethanol Producers Association.