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Biofuels are better for environment, rural economy

St. Cloud Times

June 27, 2015

By Doug Peterson

Consumers across the nation have embraced the option of purchasing foods that are produced either through a natural or organic process, in hopes of providing the best and tastiest energy source possible for their bodies. Indeed, this market has grown from being nearly nonexistent several decades ago to occupying a considerable portion of shelf space in most major grocery chains.

In that same light, there are now fuel options available that are cleaner, greener, healthier and renewable, and thus not only better for our planet but also the air we breathe and the water we drink. To that end, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2008 in hopes of slowly weaning this nation off of its dirty oil addiction and onto a renewable, healthier source of fuel. That law has not only benefited this nation's overall environment and thus our health, but has also been a major economic boon to farmers and the rural economies they support.

The RFS mandated that 36 billion gallons of ethanol — the lion's share of which comes from corn — be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply by 2022. Almost out of thin air, a new domestic market for U.S. corn was created, boosting prices for not only corn farmers but those who raised other commodities as well. For generations, corn prices had been flat and farmers were making less and less in real dollars as corn prices lagged behind input prices. The RFS turned that equation on its head.

Farmers are the engines that drive rural America's economy, and when they have extra money in their pockets, they spend it on upgrading equipment, improving their land and investing in farm infrastructure.

The passage of the RFS also sparked a surge of investment in rural America, primarily in building new ethanol plants to produce enough biofuels to meet the mandate. In fact, today there are at least 18 ethanol plants in Minnesota, providing a reliable market for farmers and reliable jobs for American workers. Nationally in 2014, the RFS supported 83,949 direct and 295,265 indirect jobs, many in rural America.

With the advent of homegrown biofuels, this nation is not only purchasing less petroleum products from countries who really don't like us, but we're also saving consumers money. A recent study from Iowa State University showed that domestic ethanol saved consumers an average of $1.09 per gallon in 2011. Money that once flowed to the Middle East and elsewhere is now remaining in Minnesota and being spent on durable goods.

There is no question that American made, farm-raised biofuels are also much friendlier to the environment. A recent study by Argonne National Laboratory finds that corn ethanol greenhouse gas emissions are 34 percent lower than those of regular gasoline. And that is better for humanity's long-term prospects on this planet.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency, the government agency tasked with overseeing the RFS, has failed to adhere to the production targets set by Congress in the law. As a result, investments are turning away from the renewable fuel sector at a time when the industry should be expanding, not contracting.

Both cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels have now reached commercial status and offer the greatest potential for environmental benefits, but delays in issuing volume targets have caused an estimated $13.7 billion gap in capital investment needed to comply with the volume targets set in the statutes that enacted the RFS.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the fact that growing corn in the Midwest is much better for the country than drilling for oil in the Arctic or off the fragile coastal areas of our nation. And the promise of new kinds of advanced biofuels holds even greater promise down the road. The EPA needs to adhere to the targets set forth by Congress and allow America's hardworking farmers to do their part in our quest for energy independence.

Read the original story here.