Industry leaders: If Brazil can do it, then so can America

In today’s economy, no country has been immune to the global recession that has roiled financial markets and hurt people’s pocketbooks. Yet, Brazil has been one of the last nations to be hampered by the recession and many experts anticipate that Brazil will be one of the first countries to pull itself out of the current economic mess. While its government has pursued a host of economic stimulus policies, one of the key reasons that Brazil has been able to escape the meltdown relatively unscathed is its energy independence.

Unlike economies, including that of the United States, that can be held hostage by rollercoaster oil and gasoline prices, Brazil is now totally energy-independent for its transportation fuels. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, in 2009 Brazil will be a net exporter of ethanol and gasoline — a true milestone for a country that, just 35 years ago, used to import 80 percent of its oil. As President Obama recently said, “If Brazil can do it, there’s no reason why America can’t do it.”

But Brazil’s transformation did not happen overnight. The Brazilian government invested heavily in ethanol to ensure that it would have a market and be a commercially viable alternative to gasoline. Further, it steadily increased the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline and carmakers readily adapted their vehicles to be able to run on these higher ethanol blends. Today, the American government has the same opportunity to embrace a policy that would create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make our economy more immune to the whims of petro-dictators.

Almost four months ago, Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers requested a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. Americans have enthusiastically embraced the increased use of ethanol in our fuel supply with thousands of people across the country expressing support for Growth Energy’s “Green Jobs Waiver” during the public comment period, which ended on July 20.

Much of the support revolves around the jobs that would be created from the increased use of ethanol. Studies show the EPA’s approval of the waiver could create 136,000 green-collar jobs and inject $24.4 billion into the U.S. economy. It would also displace 7 billion gallons of imported gasoline per year while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons per year. And according to the latest USDA reports, American farmers can grow enough corn to move to a 15 percent blend without impacting prices or supplies for food, feed and exports.

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Further, ensuring a continued market for ethanol is critical to attracting the investment necessary to commercialize next-generation biofuels made from farm waste, wood waste and other feedstocks that will further contribute to greening our economy while enhancing our energy security. The domestic production of 9 billion gallons of ethanol has already eliminated the need to import more than 300 million barrels of traditional gasoline from volatile and unfriendly regions of the world. According to the “90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study” recently released by the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory, biofuels could sustainably replace nearly a third of gasoline use by the year 2030.

While the promise of biofuels is great, we need action from the government today to remove artificial barriers on America’s homegrown, green fuel in order for it to reach its full potential. We will never achieve the model set by Brazil if we continue to sleep at the wheel during temporary lulls in gasoline prices. We must seize this opportunity to free ourselves from our oil addiction and harness the greatness of our farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs to power our nation. So, we echo President Obama’s sentiments to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and ask her, “If Brazil can do it, why can’t we?”

We eagerly await her answer.

Clark, former supreme allied commander in Europe, is the co-chairman of Growth Energy.