A time for political courage

America has made real progress toward reduced dependence on fossil fuels and more affordable renewable energy. But there is a new challenge: we must protect that progress against those who hope to undo it. 

Earlier this month the EPA announced the proposed volumes of renewable fuel for 2014 and they are significantly lower than previous years. The proposal threatens the incredible progress the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has made since 2007.

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Six years ago, the RFS set us on a path toward cheaper, more diverse and cleaner fuels. In the years since, the RFS has made homegrown renewable fuel 10 percent of our nation’s gasoline supply, lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 33.4 million metric tons, added $500 billion in value to America’s farmlands, lowered gas prices by $1.09 per gallon and created a real choice at the pump. DuPont, along with others in the industry, have played a role in that transition, investing hundreds of millions in reliable, environmentally responsible and homegrown feedstocks for ethanol production. 

No other policy or technology – not hybrid/electric vehicles, high-speed rail, fuel economy standards or tailpipe emissions regulations – has driven a more dramatic shift toward cleaner transportation than the RFS. 

 Those who oppose fuel innovation are spending millions lobbying, advertising and trying to influence news media to undo the bipartisan consensus supporting the RFS. That effort has risen to a new pitch this year, with RFS repeal bills introduced in the House and Senate, and a concerted misinformation campaign designed to distract the conversation from the benefits of renewable fuel.

 So let us remind ourselves of the facts that helped build the bipartisan consensus around the RFS and should protect it today. 

 First, the RFS is essential to the next wave of advances in cellulosic and other advanced biofuels. To take one example, DuPont has organized our best scientists and invested hundreds of millions of dollars, including building a major commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Iowa, specifically in support of the RFS objectives. Our investment, alongside those of our competitors, has helped make cellulosic ethanol/fuel a commercial reality, with volumes flowing into the fuel supply right now. 

 Changing the RFS will assure that the United States loses the leading role in this sector in which it now can leverage its unique agricultural strength. A change in policy also will assure that investors and entrepreneurs step back and take a waiting posture to see how a new policy will develop, while they take their investments and resources elsewhere.  Without the RFS, America can be all but certain that investment in cellulosic fuel will halt for at least a generation.

Second, the RFS contributes to reducing our greenhouse gas footprint, making our transportation fuel supply more sustainable. Both President Obama and George W. Bush committed to greenhouse gas reduction goals. The RFS is making significant strides in lowering emissions and will help meet these goals – even as more controversial means of reducing CO2 remain stalled in Congress or stuck in the courts. The cellulosic plant DuPont is currently building in Iowa will be GHG neutral – or in other words – we will emit no carbon into the atmosphere in the life cycle of our production. 

Finally, the RFS can actually benefit traditional energy companies, so long as they take the policy seriously and invest accordingly. Contrary to what you might hear in the latest ad campaigns, traditional energy interests are actually quite divided on the RFS, with companies that made smart biofuels investments supporting the policy, while those who ignored or fought the policy are losing millions. BP, to take one example, is partnering with DuPont to develop an advanced premium biofuel molecule that will provide additional options for renewable transportation fuels. That kind of leadership proves that the RFS is an innovation driver first and foremost, and that anyone interested in innovation is welcome to reap the benefits.

Lately RFS opponents point to rising US oil production as a reason to nix the policy. But even though America’s demand for gasoline has fallen while domestic oil production is on the rise, America will not be energy independent until we have a truly viable alternative to oil, and the RFS is the key to that alternative. As long as at least 90 percent of every tank of gas is made from oil, America’s dependence on this fossil fuel will remain, even if the oil comes from North Dakota instead of the North Sea or more hostile climes. Oil prices are set on a global market – and that market is heavily influenced by OPEC and a handful of less friendly nations. 

The conclusion is straightforward. Either America can hold fast to the bipartisan consensus that created the RFS to encourage innovation, investment and choice, or we can give in to the interests that want to block progress. Only the RFS will drive our country in the right direction.

Collins is DuPont senior vice president.