Congress should not oppose biofuels. They create jobs and help the environment.
No fuel at scale today comes close to equaling ethanol’s ability to prevent American cars and trucks from spewing pollutants from their tailpipes. Unfortunately, one of the most important incentives for the growth of biofuels is now under attack by misguided lawmakers and Big Oil.
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The Obama administration rightly supports the renewable fuel standard as well as research and investment to develop the next generation of biofuels. Announced in the midst of one of the hottest summers in recorded history, President Obama's Climate Action Plan also calls for “reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”Skip to next paragraph
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Study after study has shown that using ethanol in place of gasoline helps to reduce emissions of the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, by up to 30 to 50 percent, given today's technology. A recent peer-reviewed study published by Yale University's Journal of Industrial Ecology concluded that grain ethanol cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 48 to 59 percent when directly compared to gasoline. Even when factoring in the unproven theory that ethanol production changes land-use patterns, ethanol still reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent. The charge has been made that greater ethanol use leads to the cutting down of the rain forest. Yet, while ethanol use has increased, rain forest destruction has declined.
Similarly, using the GREET (Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation) model developed by the Department of Energy, the 13.3 billion gallons of ethanol produced in the United States in 2012 reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 33.4 million tons. That's the same as removing 5.2 million cars – as many as all the cars on the road in the entire state of Michigan – from America's roads.
And because ethanol is made from renewable, plant-based feedstocks, the carbon dioxide released from cars burning the biofuel is “recycled” by corn, sugarcane, trees, and other ethanol plant crops, which use carbon dioxide in their grow process.
Since the renewable fuel standard was enacted, with the support of then-President Bush and then-Sen. Obama, US ethanol production has increased from 6.48 billion gallons in 2007 to 13.3 billion gallons last year. Delivering demonstrable environmental benefits for the atmosphere and fuel choice for motorists, the industry supports almost 400,000 American jobs, reviving rural communities.
Meanwhile, by requiring greater use of non-grain (cellulosic) ethanol, the fuel standard is stimulating investments and innovations in the next generation of biofuels that promise even greater environmental benefits.
Already, the cellulosic biofuels industry has facilities and projects under development in more than 20 states, with billions of dollars in private investment. By 2030, the US could produce 75 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels annually. Look for biofuels being made from environmentally favorable feedstocks ranging from corn stalks to wood chips and municipal garbage.
In his speech announcing his Climate Action Plan, President Obama declared: "A low-carbon, clean-energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. And I want America to build that engine."
Clean-burning, American-made biofuels should – and can – power that engine. And American lawmakers should support – not stymie – the renewable fuel standard that helps keeps that engine running clean.
Bob Dinneen is the president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, the trade association of the American ethanol industry.