Biofuels from the Midwest are driving U.S. economic growth



April 2, 2018 - 11:00 PM

There’s an entire cottage industry of organizations that accept oil industry cash to attack alternative fuels, from windmills to nuclear power. Lately, those attacks have been focused on homegrown biofuels, like ethanol, which are produced from renewable farm crops. Biofuels are a target because they supply a full 10 percent of America’s motor fuel, and every extra gallon increases competition at the fuel pump, holding down prices for American drivers.

In fact, U.S. oil imports are down by more than half since passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The 13-year-old law guarantees that U.S. biofuels can’t be locked out of the market by petroleum companies, which control the distribution chain for many of the nation’s gas stations. Biofuels cost less than petroleum, and thanks to the RFS, more affordable biofuel blends are now standard at the pump.

To undermine their competition, biofuel critics now argue that renewable feedstocks like corn contribute to a growing agricultural footprint, offsetting the environmental benefits of homegrown energy. But those arguments are not only misleading, they are complete fabrications.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data is very clear. American farmers use less land than in previous decades, not more. In fact, America has significantly less cropland than in the 1930s. Yet we’re producing more food and fuel than ever before. Stable demand for biofuels under the RFS has helped farmers invest in productivity, and agricultural efficiency has skyrocketed.

Critics also predicted that food prices would rise alongside biofuel production, and they were wrong about that too. The productivity of American agriculture has outpaced demand. The Wall Street Journal reports that America is experiencing “ultra-low crop and livestock prices stemming from a global oversupply.” That’s why Democrats and Republicans alike have been urging the Environmental Protection Agency to harness that surplus to meet the energy needs of a growing economy.

America needs to continue building its energy reserves. Despite what some claim, our thirst for motor fuel is stronger than ever. We drove more than 3.2 trillion miles last year, more than any year on record, according to the Federal Highway Administration. We also consumed more fuel, over 140 billion gallons of gasoline, just shy of the record set in 2016. And despite new drilling and increased fracking, we still buy a full quarter of that oil from a global market manipulated by Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

By any measure available, we should be using more biofuels – not looking for excuses to roll back production of homegrown energy. Yet that’s exactly what some petroleum refiners are demanding, and the consequences would be devastating.

Farm income is at a 12-year low. Rural families are struggling, and the crisis threatens to drag down the economy across the Midwest and beyond. But biofuel production centers – more than 200 across the heartland – are pillars of economic strength. They support hundreds of thousands of American jobs and serve as manufacturing hubs in regions left behind when other industries moved overseas. Best of all, they produce clean, affordable fuel.

USDA research proves that American ethanol reduces carbon emissions by 43 percent, even when accounting for the energy and land used by farmers. It also saves the average U.S. household about $142 in gasoline expenses annually, according to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. It even boosts performance. NASCAR drivers all use a 15 percent blend of high-octane ethanol – a far less costly alternative to toxic octane boosters like benzene.

Yet there are still special interests working overtime to push for a cap on homegrown energy. They insist that alternatives aren’t needed. But imagine a map of the world, where each nation’s size is determined by oil reserves. Saudi Arabi and Venezuela would dominate the globe. If, however, each nation is sized by agricultural productivity, America dwarfs the competition. That’s why the RFS is a clear winner for our environment, our energy security, and our economy.

It’s time to reject the slick lobbying campaigns and unleash the full potential of America’s vast renewable resources.

About the writer: Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent championed creation of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005 and currently serves as Co-Chair of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation.