Ethanol was green before green was cool

Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C. are abuzz with “green” energy. Green jobs, green restaurants and a green power plant are all the rage.

Well, it may be the new rage around here, but green was cool in Middle America long before official Washington jumped on the bandwagon.

Those of us in rural America have seen the benefits of ethanol for nearly 30 years. Federal tax incentives provided a jumpstart to the market and helped fuel research and development funding to help unlock technological advances. And, while fierce opposition over the years from the likes of Big Oil and the grocery manufacturers has tried to derail efforts to expand and renew the public policy breakthroughs that have allowed ethanol to gain acceptance, a bipartisan, bicameral coalition on Capitol Hill prevailed on the merits of investing in homegrown energy to shield the United States economy and boost energy security from volatile, state-controlled oil empires in the Middle East.

Now, 70 percent of the nation’s fuel contains ethanol, and commuters, moms and dads on-the-go, and even Indy Car drivers are seeing the benefits of this green fuel. Today, ethanol and biodiesel are the only fuels available that provide an alternative to gasoline and diesel produced from fossil fuels.

Ethanol is a clean-burning, job producing, homegrown source of fuel. Last year alone, clean-burning ethanol displaced 321 million barrels of foreign oil. That’s keeping a lot of money right here at home where it can create jobs and boost America’s economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency has several proposals in front of it that would help keep this green fuel at the forefront of our green economy.

In 2007, Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act, which expanded the Renewable Fuels Standard to require the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. Right now, the EPA is reviewing a component of the new Renewable Fuels Standard that requires various biofuels to meet specified lifecycle greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

The law said that these lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are to include direct emissions and significant indirect emissions from indirect land use changes.

In the proposed rule recently released by the EPA, the agency relies on incomplete science and inaccurate assumptions to penalize U.S. biofuels for so-called “international indirect land use changes.”

The fact is, measuring international, indirect emissions of greenhouse gases is far from a perfect science. There is a great deal of complexity and uncertainty.

Under the EPA’s analysis, ethanol produced from corn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent compared to gasoline. However, if you remove the murky science of emissions from indirect land use changes, corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 61 percent compared to gasoline.

The EPA’s models conclude that international land use changes contribute more in greenhouse gases than the entire direct emissions of ethanol production and use — from growing the crop, the production of ethanol at the refinery, to the tailpipe emissions when it’s burned.

This conclusion is ludicrous.

The fact is, the model that the EPA has cobbled together to measure indirect land use is far from scientific. It’s more like a guess.

Even larger in this debate is the role of common sense. It defies logic that the EPA would blame a farmer in Iowa for the actions of farmers, loggers or developers in Brazil.

During the past five years, when biodiesel and ethanol production in the U.S. ramped up, Brazilian soybean acres actually decreased and corn acres remained unchanged. Amazon deforestation has also fallen for the past five years. A recent study indicated that the primary reason for the land clearing was for timber production and land grabbing, followed by cattle farming.

Nowhere on the list was U.S. biofuels production.

This debate comes down to a few simple questions. Do we want more production of green fuels or less?

Do we want greater dependency on Iran and Venezuela for our energy needs or less?

Do we want to create jobs here at home or send money overseas?

Another proposal before the EPA would help answer these questions by increasing the use of green fuels, lessening our dependence on foreign oil, and keeping jobs at home by raising the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline for non-flex-fuel vehicles to 15 percent. Currently the blend percentage is limited to 10 percent ethanol with 90 percent gasoline. I’ve been advocating for several years that the EPA pick up the pace in studying the feasibility of higher blends of ethanol in gasoline. Studies show that ethanol blends of up to 20 percent were found to be safe for both automotive equipment and performance.

The bottom line is that a higher blend between E10 and E15 is necessary to meet the new Renewable Fuels Standard and keep our renewable fuels industry growing. Particularly as second-generation biofuels are being developed and commercialized, it’s important that we also support the steady expansion of markets for ethanol by moving to a higher percentage of ethanol-blended gasoline as soon as possible.

Increasing the ethanol blend to 15 percent is good, good, good. Not only would we be increasing green energy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we’d also be creating 136,000 new green jobs.

That’s a jolt of the Midwestern common sense used to start the green energy crusade that our economy could use right now.

Grassley is the only working family farmer serving on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.