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A Better Fuel Mix Can Be 'Made in America'

  • Thursday, 03 August 2017 11:22

Des Moines Register

August 3, 2017

By Rick Santorum

Shortly before announcing “Made in America” week, the White House approved new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) targets for the volume of American-made biofuels that will flow into the nation’s fuel mix next year.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, probably summed up the collective reaction of most observers when he called the proposal a “mixed bag.”

As promised, President Trump stood by his commitment to rural communities. He rejected the annual call by oil companies to roll back conventional biofuels, often made from U.S. corn, sorghum or other farm crops. The move was greeted warmly across the heartland, where a global crop surplus has pushed down farm incomes for four years running, threatening to stall the entire rural economy.

American ethanol now replaces more than 500 million barrels of imported oil annually and shields drivers from price manipulation by hostile forces within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Ethanol also reduces carbon emissions by 43 percent, according to the latest research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There’s no shortage of detractors in the petroleum business, but the facts are clear, and homegrown biofuels now supply a full 10 percent of America’s motor fuel, making a major contribution to U.S. energy security.

Unfortunately, those EPA officials who manage non-conventional biofuels seemed to have missed the memo. If finalized, the EPA plan would cut advanced biofuels by 73 million gallons and provide for zero growth in biodiesel.

The loss of 73 million gallons may not seem like much, especially when you consider that we export more than a billion gallons of U.S. ethanol each year. But there’s more to the story. By law, the Renewable Energy Standard (RFS) calls on the EPA to foster growth in domestic bio-energy production. Ignoring that law sends a signal to investors that the U.S. is no longer fertile ground for innovation in renewable fuel.

What the EPA needs to understand is that conventional ethanol and cellulosic ethanol are part of a single, unbroken supply chain that is lifting up rural America. Cellulosic ethanol doesn’t come from a lab in Seattle. It comes from places like Story County, Ia., where Sonny Perdue gave his first major policy speech as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The crowd cheered when he announced that “renewable energy, ethanol, is here to stay and we’re going to work for new technologies to be more efficient.”

Chemically speaking, ethanol is ethanol, whether it’s made from wood chips or corn starch. The cellulosic stuff is just made from cheaper, more abundant plant matter like cobs, stalks, and husks. It’s harder to break down into fuel, but U.S. innovators are already producing commercial volumes.

That’s because first-generation ethanol producers established successful partnerships with farm communities, created efficient supply chains, and invested in the infrastructure to convert agricultural feedstocks into high-value fuel. Some of these companies are now opening new biorefineries, while others are attaching cutting-edge equipment to older facilities that will produce more fuel from every existing harvest. In each case, those making second-generation biofuels possible are the same folks who make first-generation biofuels successful.

With time, there’s no reason all 198 biorefineries across the heartland can’t see similar investments, adding to the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by biofuel production. Meanwhile, the protein and fat in each kernel is already sent right back into the food chain as low-cost animal feed.

In short, cellulosic ethanol represents the next great American promise of the 11-year-old RFS. Conventional targets have been met. Traditional production will grow, especially if we continue to open foreign markets to U.S. exports. But future growth envisioned under the RFS falls exclusively under the column of advanced biofuels.

These fuels can actually sequester carbon over their full life cycle, significantly reducing emissions, according to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. They also supply a fresh revenue stream to rural communities, bringing high-tech jobs into the heartland.

By slashing targets for advanced fuel, the EPA is essentially telling rural America that growth is not an option. That’s not what this administration stands for. President Trump knows that homegrown fuels represent a vital opportunity to create jobs in the heartland while keeping our air clean and promoting U.S. energy dominance. There’s no good reason to hold back that progress. Before finalizing the proposed rule in November, the EPA needs to get on board and tell investors that the U.S. is going to remain a biofuel leader now and well into the future.

RICK SANTORUM is co-chair of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation and a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

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