It is past time for the United States to take a serious and sober look at the genuine cost – from blood to public debt to economic vulnerability – that our addiction to foreign oil has meant. We must commit to a plan to bring alternatives, such as ethanol, to the market in enough volume to break oil’s strategic hold over our economy.

Consider these facts:
·         Princeton University researcher Roger Stern published a paper that estimated taxpayers forfeit about $225 billion annually to maintain a military presence in the Persian Gulf dedicated to protecting our access to oil; from 1976 to 2007, Stern estimated that total cost to taxpayers to amount to  $7.3 trillion.
·         Depending on the global price of oil, our economy sends upwards of $1 billion every day overseas in a balance of payments for foreign oil. Even as oil production in states like North Dakota grows, the global demand for oil continues to rise as developing economies increase their appetite for petroleum.
·         Global oil was trading at about $25 a barrel prior to Sept. 11, 2001. That was ten years ago, and prices have gone up four-fold. And today we are ‘happy’ when it’s only $100 a barrel, as opposed to $150 or $200 or more. With the likelihood of increased unrest in the Middle East, and increased volatility in the oil markets, can we afford to be ‘happy’ if oil prices increase four-fold again over the next 10 years?
We have an alternative in American-made ethanol. And now that the false debate over the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) is behind us, we can have a more serious discussion about the future of clean, renewable alternatives in this country.
Our first goal should be reforming access to the motor fuels market, so that consumers have access to alternatives, like mid-level ethanol blends. For starters, we need to expedite the approval of E15 – the 15 percent ethanol blend fuel that has been proven not only by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s extensive testing, but by NASCAR, which used Sunoco Green E15 last season, fueling cars and trucks in more than a million miles of practice, qualifying and racing.

Our second goal should be to support policies that would encourage retailers to install enough Flex Fuel pumps to service the more than 9 million Flex Fuel vehicles on the road – and the far greater numbers we can expect with the automakers’ promise to make half of their fleets Flex-Fuel capable.
Ethanol is here today. It is not a “someday” fuel. With spot market prices for ethanol historically far below that of unleaded gasoline, ethanol helps reduce prices at the pump. Production of ethanol generates distillers grains, an affordable and nutritious supplement to corn feed for livestock. And as a 113-octane oxygenate, ethanol has the added benefit of improving performance while reducing smog and other emissions.
Ultimately, we can make all the ethanol we need here in the United States. There is no need to deploy military units to defend ethanol reserves. Ethanol spills have never closed any U.S. beaches. Ethanol is clean and it is completely renewable – given the market opportunity, we could produce it from waste. And it creates jobs in the United States.
If we are ever to find market-based solutions to our costly addiction to foreign oil, it will be through policies that put choice back in the hands of the consumer. Right now, their choice is being made for them – and oil’s monopoly is proving far too costly to maintain.
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, former NATO Supreme Commander, is the Co-Chairman of Growth Energy, an organization of ethanol supporters.