Expanding ethanol use

As Congress prepares to hammer out differences between Senate and House versions of important energy legislation, it’s critical that House conferees revisit the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and join both the Senate and the Bush administration in moving toward energy independence by stepping up ethanol use.

The Senate has expanded the current RFS to require 36 billion gallons of ethanol and biofuels consumption annually by 2022 — from our own homegrown fuels. This initiative puts the country on a path toward not only energy independence, but also economic growth, investment in our own farmers and production facilities, creation of jobs in rural areas and diversion of billions of dollars from foreign regimes to the American market. And these benefits are not limited to rural America. The Senate’s bill encourages biofuels production from a wider range of feed stocks than corn, which will create opportunities for every region of the U.S. to contribute to the production of our own homegrown fuels.

In Nebraska, the ethanol market has created an estimated 1,000 permanent jobs at ethanol production facilities and has employed another 1,500 Nebraskans indirectly, according to the Nebraska Public Power District and Nebraska Ethanol Board. With 17 ethanol production plants in the state producing more than 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol each year, the plants represent $1.4 billion in capital investment in the state — an investment that promises to grow as investors and consumers nationwide embrace the virtues of cleaner-burning fuel and homegrown alternatives to foreign oil.

Unfortunately, the House chose not to include an expansion of the renewable fuels standard in its version of the bill. Failing to expand the RFS is tantamount to perpetuating our reliance on a finite and environmentally harmful fuel source that mostly benefits unstable regions in the Middle East or quarrelsome nations such as Venezuela. As such, I hope that the conference committee includes the expanded RFS so our energy policy is certain to continue encouraging the production of ethanol and biofuels.

One problem the biofuels issue has faced is that, until now, there was not a reliable, one-stop information source providing a clear understanding of ethanol’s impact on all sectors of the economy and national security. That is why, along with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), my co-chairman of the Ethanol Across America education program and the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, I unveiled a study detailing ethanol’s real impact on our economy that helps demonstrate what increased usage would mean for the country’s future. With support from more than 50 organizations from the agricultural sector to the automotive industry, to government agencies and energy groups, the Ethanol Fact Book will aid the public, legislators and their staffs in deciphering and determining how increased ethanol production can benefit their home districts and states, and help everyone better understand the important role ethanol plays in setting the nation on a path toward energy independence.

Expanding ethanol production and use not only spurs economic growth and reduces our foreign oil consumption, but also significantly helps achieve clean air standards when used as an oxygenate in gasoline. According to the EPA, “gasoline and diesel consumption account for about 41 percent of the greenhouse gases inventory in the United States.” On per gallon bases, corn-based ethanol reduces these emissions by 29 percent, according to studies supported by the Department of Energy. Ethanol continues to outpace petroleum on all fronts.

An energy policy that continues funneling billions of dollars into foreign markets and refuses to invest in renewable homegrown fuels is a policy that will ultimately lead to disaster. I invite my congressional colleagues to consider the virtues of placing our trust and support behind an American-fueled energy market and consider the benefits for our states and districts.

Nelson is co-chairman of Ethanol Across America and the Clean Fuels Development Coalition.