Biofuel policy in Washington these days has gotten too far off course. Ethanol opponents are hard at work trying to shift focus to the alleged impacts of American ethanol use on the decisions of farmers, ranchers, loggers, developers and governments half the world away, despite scant evidence to suggest any relationship exists.
The flaws of this approach, which I have outlined numerous times in this space threaten to impede the development and evolution of America's clean-burning renewable fuels industry. But as is the case during any storm, there is a silver lining in these otherwise ominous clouds.
By focusing on international developments that may or may not have any relationship to American ethanol production, official Washington has created the opportunity for farmers and biofuel producers all over the world to stand up and speak with one powerful voice. Worldwide ethanol production has made a significant difference in the economic marketplace and the environmental arena. The OPEC oil cartel hates ethanol because it eats into their domination and excess profits. Every gallon of gasoline not consumed in favor of ethanol means 50% to 60% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
In discussing ethanol, we need to remember that in a world economy dominated by oil, no country has been able to get an ethanol industry going without significant government assistance. The United States and Brazil are case studies in point.
Renewable fuels have only taken hold in countries such as the U.S. and Brazil that have created and sustained programs to encourage its production. These incentives have included tax advantages, tariffs, export enhancement, debt forgiveness, infrastructure development and outright subsidies. It is important that countries be allowed to create similar programs, and grow their own biofuels industries, using whatever indigenous raw materials are available to them.
The model that the U.S. and Brazil have utilized is now helping farmers and biofuel producers in Canada and countries all across Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are developing infrastructure and deploying biofuel technologies making them more energy secure while addressing economic and environmental concerns brought on by a dependence on imported oil. Sweden, for example, is shifting vodka distilleries to ethanol production and increasing its fleet of E-85 vehicles.
Many of these industries are at a vulnerable phase in their development. Even in more advanced industries in the U.S. and Brazil, unproven theories such as indirect land use change threaten to slow and even halt the development of next generation biofuel technologies that hold so much promise to reduce oil demand and mitigate climate challenges posed by oil dependence.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated biofuels are the only non-fossil fuels helping to reduce oil demand. Merrill Lynch has reported biofuels are keeping world oil prices 15 percent lower than they otherwise would be.
We know that the major cause of global warming is greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that the major source of carbon dioxide is fossil fuel combustion -- which mostly means running cars, trucks and other vehicles with petroleum products, such as gasoline. This is where biofuel shines.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska have reported, compared to gasoline, today's ethanol reduces direct greenhouse gas emissions between 48 percent to 59 percent. And while we may have some issues with EPA's recent assessment of ethanol's carbon footprint, even that Agency has acknowledged that ethanol produced from grain in the U.S. using natural gas to run the plant will have direct carbon benefits of more than 60%!
Biofuel production and environmental stewardship are directed at the same goal. Current technologies as well as future evolutions provide both a short term bridge as well as a long term foundation for the growth of a diverse biofuels industry. Such growth can and should be done in a manner consistent with stated environmental goals.
Likewise, similar technology improvements mean biofuel production and food production not only coexist, but are often one and the same. Ethanol production from grains yields a nutrient-rich livestock feed that when fed to cattle can actually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Together with the growth potential of crop yields around the world, agriculture can continue to feed the world and help provide energy solutions.
The enemy of policymakers and environmental advocates ought not be industries trying to replace imported oil with its heavy carbon footprint. Our collective enemy is the status quo. The global biofuels community is committed to tackling the economic, environmental and energy challenges facing all of us.
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