A "lame duck" Congress commences this week, representing the final leg of the Obama administration's first congressional term. The way I see it, as an IndyCar driver with nearly 30 years of racing experience, these few remaining weeks are among the most critical, and dangerous. I liken it to those final, knuckle-whitening laps around the track at each year's Indianapolis 500. The driver knows the road ahead and has a good feel for what works. It's time to edge out the best finish with carefully-considered maneuvers.
Congress is back on the track, after its election pit stop, debating key legislative incentives meant to create more jobs and stimulate better business, including the extension of expiring tax cuts. The extension of one such tax cut is a strategic must: the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or VEETC. This tax credit helps ethanol producers meet our mounting energy demands. It also protects the American labor, farmland and manufacturing facilities that are integral in meeting that demand. VEETC is set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year, unless Congress passes a large tax bill that includes many different types of tax cuts including VEETC.
Without the extension, we risk too much. Failure to extend the tax credits would force tens of
thousands of Americans out of their jobs, further compromising an economy already struggling
with a 10 percent unemployment rate. (Some experts say that figure is closer to 17 percent when considering the underemployed and those who have given up looking for work.) Hundreds of millions of gallons of ethanol capacity would be wasted and the U.S. would be forced to import more foreign oil. Additionally, the Highway Trust Fund, which helps federal and state government agencies to improve transportation infrastructure, would lose the more than $3 billion generated from the VEETC annually.
Despite its already significant contributions to our energy needs, the biofuels industry is in a fledgling state. According to federal law, ethanol must be blended into every gallon of gasoline sold in the U.S. If our leaders make a strategic error now, the American ethanol industry could suffer and we may be forced to buy ethanol from our foreign competitors. With the right incentives and bipartisan congressional support, we can not only protect the 400,000 precious American jobs already associated with the industry, but grow that figure to millions. Currently, the primary source of ethanol in the U.S. is corn; continued ethanol production serves to stabilize corn prices and plant the seeds of future prosperity for our communities and hard-working farmers of the American heartland. Ethanol will continue to play an important role reducing harmful carbon monoxide emissions, a leading contributor to global climate change.
The decisions our politicians make from now until the end of the year will determine the role America will play in the development of clean energy. By extending the VEETC, Congress can demonstrate our nation's commitment to the future of clean energy and stimulate private-sector investment. The alternative amounts to shutting off our engine. With China investing billions into alternative fuel technology and Brazil generating nearly eight billion gallons of sugar-cane ethanol a year, we cannot afford to just wave them past. As an IndyCar driver, I have experienced the performance of pure ethanol under the harshest automotive conditions. Ethanol powers our cars to speeds over 230 mph and literally allows our participants and fans to breathe easier. I am proud to showcase an energy solution that is among the best and cleanest fuel technologies available today.
As the 111th Congress comes to a close, I encourage every American to get involved and let our congressional leaders know that ethanol is a key component to our country's future energy independence, our economic growth and our environmental responsibility. Urge your leaders to extend the VEETC. With the impending shift of control in the House, demand that this lame duck keep its eyes on the road ahead rather than handing over the wheel.
Jeff Simmons is a driver in the IndyCar series, has competed in four Indianapolis 500 races, and has long been an advocate for renewable energy.