Renewable fuels offer simultaneous economic, environmental and national security benefits
Why are drivers in Watertown, S.D., paying 60 cents a gallon less to fill up their gas tanks than we are? Because 30 percent of their fuel is ethanol.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Ukraine, President Biden acknowledged that U.S. drivers were going to feel pain at the pump, given Russia’s role as one of the world’s biggest oil producers. But his steps so far to reduce that pain, including a temporary waiver to allow higher blends of lower-cost ethanol fuel blends, have not gone far enough.
So, what else can be done to reduce the shock of $5 gasoline? As a first step, President Biden could direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enable the use of higher levels of renewable fuel, replacing a larger share of petroleum gasoline with high-octane, low-carbon, cleaner and lower-cost fuel such as E25 (25 percent ethanol per gallon). Encouraging the use of American-made ethanol in mid-level blends offers an immediate solution that delivers simultaneous economic, environmental and national security benefits. Congress could also help by passing the Next Generation Fuels Act, H.R. 5089, a bipartisan bill that would improve transportation fuel quality and incentivize vehicle technologies that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase fuel economy.
Let’s take a closer look at those benefits. First, financial relief for consumers: At wholesale levels, a standard E10 blend today costs 15 to 20 cents per gallon less than straight gasoline. With that price advantage in the current market, enabling drivers to use higher-level blends would reduce their prices by as much as 60 cents a gallon. That’s what’s happening in Watertown today.
Second, American economic and national security would be strengthened by reducing our consumption of oil. The price of oil is set in world markets, making the United States vulnerable to the whims of leaders of those nations that supply the oil, as Putin has demonstrated. Boosting our fuel supplies with domestically produced biofuels will reduce our vulnerability to those vagaries, lower global oil prices and better ensure our national security.
Third, ethanol’s environmental benefits include lower greenhouse gas emissions — by 20 to 50 percent compared to regular gasoline — findings verified in recent studies by Harvard, USDA and the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The importance of those benefits is driven home by the recent report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning that the world is speeding toward a level of global warming that, in a few short years, will have irreversible impacts if nothing is done.
Fourth, increasing the ethanol content in gasoline would improve air quality and public health by reducing the release of dangerous ultrafine particles. The most common engines in today’s new cars, using gasoline direct injection technology, produce more, not less, of these ultrafine particles. The effect on residents of densely populated urban areas — especially pregnant women and small children — is as harmful as that of airborne lead. The use of higher-level ethanol blends would reduce the emission of these tiny particles, while increasing vehicle efficiency and fuel economy.
Most of us have known since kindergarten about the role of the American farmer in providing the food we eat and material we use to make our clothes and other products. Agriculture’s role as a source of clean energy was also recognized by Congress when it approved a 25x’25 renewable energy goal in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: By 2025, America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce food, feed and fiber. Among the primary pathways for achieving this goal are enabling policies and public investments in cleaner burning, less expensive biofuels.
Biofuels like ethanol offer a win-win-win-win solution to address the pain now felt at the pump. We urge the president and EPA to unlock this multi-benefit solution pathway right away.
Reid Detchon is senior adviser for climate solutions at the United Nations Foundation. He previously served as the foundation’s vice president for energy and climate strategy and executive director of the Energy Future Coalition. He also served as principal deputy assistant secretary for conservation and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Bart Ruth is a Nebraska corn and soybean producer and board member of Solutions from the Land, a grass-roots organization that explores integrated land management solutions to help meet food security, economic development, climate change and conservation of biodiversity goals. He also is co-chair of the 25x’25 Alliance, a farmer-driven renewable energy advocacy group. He is a former president of the American Soybean Association.
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