How to prevent repeat of 2008 pains at pump

When Americans stop at the gas station to fill up the family vehicle before summer vacations, the prices they pay at the pump for gasoline are much lower than they were just one year ago. However, we cannot forget the pain those high gas prices caused — raising prices not only for gasoline, but also for other necessities, including groceries.

While it is a relief to see lower gas prices this year, we can’t lose the focus on finding alternatives to imported energy products. Energy independence is a long-term and necessary goal — otherwise, we’ll always be waiting for the next OPEC price hike.

Clean, homegrown renewable fuels are already playing an important role in meeting our nation’s energy needs, and with new technology and advances in the industry, biofuels hold the key for true energy independence in the United States.

We can look to the success that Brazil has enjoyed as they have developed their domestic biofuels industry, with Brazilian drivers easily switching to various ethanol blends, depending on availability and market conditions. Brazil has also made a commitment to flexible fuel vehicles, and at one point, almost 90 percent of new cars sold there were flexible fuel vehicles. Only 30 years ago, Brazil was importing 80 percent of the oil needs, and today, they are virtually energy-independent. With the right mix of public policies and smart investments, biofuels can offer a similar opportunity here in the United States.

The climate change bill passed by the House in June was a good step in the right direction. I worked hard to include provisions in the bill that will allow the renewable fuels industry to grow and access the biomass they need to move to second- and third-generation biofuels production.

One small but important provision in the climate change bill will provide funding to state and local governments to install renewable energy infrastructure, including blender pumps. I think that this is an essential step that we need to take in order to ensure the availability of renewable fuels to consumers around the country.

Looking forward, we need to consider the best approach we can take to increase the availability and usability of biofuels for American consumers. Instead of focusing only on high-level ethanol blends like E85, I think the key to moving forward lies with expanding flexibility and choice for consumers to decide for themselves how much ethanol they are going to use.

Blender pumps allow consumers to choose the ethanol blend that works for them, and we need to do more to encourage installation of these pumps. The climate change bill takes a good step in that direction, providing some funds to help install these pumps.

As we increase the availability of blender pumps, we also have to produce vehicles capable of using higher blends. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on blends of ethanol from zero to 85 percent, and it is an easy and very affordable option to manufacture cars with this flexibility.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that would establish in law a goal expressed by the major U.S. car companies to have 50 percent of all new vehicles by 2012 equipped with flex-fuel technology. By 2015, that number would increase to 80 percent of new cars with that capacity. I believe this is an achievable goal and I strongly support his bill.

We can improve the environment, create jobs and increase our energy independence by expanding consumers’ access to and ability to use renewable fuels. I’m excited about the future of the renewable energy industry and will continue to educate and work with my colleagues in Congress and the private sector to strengthen this vital American industry.

Peterson is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.