THE BLOG
03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ethanol Industry, Green Jobs Prove Key to Rural Renewal

President Obama is proposing a "Green Jobs" bill, including investments in environmentally friendly technologies from solar panels to energy conservation.

The prime examples of green jobs are American-made renewable fuels, such as ethanol. As 2010 begins, ethanol continues to be the nation's leading example of how clean energy produces green jobs. The recently released 2010 U.S. Ethanol Industry Salary Survey estimates that the ethanol industry nationally generates nearly half a million jobs annually, directly and indirectly. These are well-paying jobs, with more than 75% of workers earning $50,000 per year and 99% of receiving health care benefits.

Heavily concentrated in rural America, these jobs offer an economic lifeline for communities, many of which are otherwise losing businesses, jobs and population. Communities with biorefineries benefit from more jobs, not only in these facilities but also in businesses that serve the refineries and their employees, including local retail stores, restaurants, trucking companies and many others. As Mike Bryan concludes in his editorial in the January issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine, "The importance of the domestic ethanol industry to the vibrancy of the U.S. economy, especially the rural economy, cannot be overstated."

For an example of how ethanol revitalizes rural communities, just take a look at Hoke County, N.C. That's where the state's first ethanol plant, the $100 million Clean Burn Fuels biorefinery, will begin production in February, according to reports.

Expected to hire more than 40 employees, the plant will produce 60 million gallons of ethanol and 175,000 tons of dried distiller grains to feed farm animals during its first year alone. Because these are solid middle class jobs, the company has received 900 applications for available positions, according to the Fayetteville Observer. Of course, the biorefinery will also contribute to job growth throughout the community, as workers spend money from their paychecks in local businesses. Also, by buying corn locally, the plant will provide a market for farmers throughout the area.

In Janesville, Minn., a new 120 million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant is now not only the town's largest employer, second only to the school district, but also one of the biggest property taxpayers in the county. And in Alpena, Mich., using an $18 million grant from the Department of Energy's Biorefinery Assistance Program, American Process is building a pilot plant to convert wood waste to ethanol. It will result in 160 jobs. This type of job-creating renewable biofuel projects are occurring all across America.

Creating solid jobs in the ethanol industry is good for the nation's economy, good for our energy security and good for the natural environment. Ethanol use in the last year has displaced more than 300 million barrels of imported oil, saving American taxpayers billions of dollars. To add to its advantages, compared to gasoline today's ethanol reduces direct greenhouse gas emissions between 48 percent and 59 percent.

Moreover, in the midst of the deepening recession in 2008, the ethanol industry opened 31 new plants, added tens of thousands of new jobs, and generated $21 billion in tax revenues for the federal, state and local governments. In expanding from 2 billion gallons in 2001 to 10.6 billion gallons in 2009, America's biofuels industry has added jobs in construction, manufacturing, science, marketing and a host of other industries supporting America's ethanol industry.

All this activity will be "green" in both senses of the word, promoting the economy while preserving the environment. That's what green jobs are all about.