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Ethanol: Breaking the Crude Oil Mandate
by Brian Jennings

Freedom, something we Americans celebrate proudly, means having the ability to make our own choices. But freedom quickly disappears when choices are not available. Having only one choice offers no real choice at all. Clearly this fact is lost upon The Heritage Foundation, a group that makes hay from attacking ethanol.

Brian Jennings is the Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol

A case in point about choices: the U.S. energy situation. Transportation fuel in America is almost completely sourced from crude oil – expensive crude oil that often comes from people and nations who don’t like us very much. Gasoline can be marketed under different brands, grades, or octane levels, but the fact that it comes from a barrel of oil cannot change.

With no other choices but these petroleum-based fuels, we are essentially living under a de-facto crude oil mandate. Why have we independence-loving Americans put up with this status quo for so long? Ethanol, though just in its infancy, is beginning to break through this mandate and offer a real energy choice.

Ethanol is not a silver bullet solution to America’s energy situation, nor can it totally replace all the gasoline – 140 billion gallons and growing – that the U.S. annually consumes. But ethanol is the most important and meaningful real world alternative we have to gasoline today, and it can diversify our transportation fuel supply, providing a domestically produced, cost-effective option at the pump.

The energy status quo in this country is not working, and ethanol is part of the solution.

Corn-based ethanol, much of it produced at facilities owned by farmers and local investors, has pioneered a place in the U.S. fuel supply, now being blended into nearly half of America’s gasoline gallons. The 120 ethanol biorefineries across the nation have proven to be an important economic engine, restoring prosperity to rural communities and reducing farm program payouts due to the stronger domestic corn market.

Cellulosic ethanol will build upon the success that has already been accomplished, growing ethanol’s footprint to a much larger portion of the fuel supply. By using a wide variety of cellulosic feedstocks – corn stover, grain straw, wood residues, municipal waste, citrus, perennial grasses – ethanol production can grow and so can the benefits to America’s energy situation.

Yet it seems that everywhere you turn today, critics are questioning ethanol. They say government incentives and requirements are wrong. They say it takes too much fossil energy to create and transport ethanol. They say because ethanol is not a snap-your-fingers fix, it’s not worthwhile.

These attacks are off the mark, and they detract from the real issue at hand: the energy status quo in this country is not working, and ethanol is part of the solution.

In the words of one petroleum company executive, asking the oil industry to sell ethanol is like asking cattlemen to sell tofu – it’s not their product and they’d rather not use it. The transportation fuel supply is a pretty profitable status quo for the petroleum industry, and understandably, they have no reason to want things to change.

But as Americans, we do want things to change and understand that things must change. The threat of global warming and the reality of a limited oil supply are two red flags on the horizon, reminding us that clean, renewable alternatives are needed.

Congress is right to provide an incentive for ethanol, in the form of a lower fuel tax rate, as a way to encourage its inclusion in the gasoline supply. The Renewable Fuels Standard, requiring an increasing amount of ethanol and biodiesel to be used nationwide each year, is also a way to ensure that the U.S. moves forward into a diversified energy supply instead of remaining stuck in the oil status quo. Incentives are the government’s way of supporting what it places value on, and in today’s world, renewable fuels are undoubtedly worthy of efforts to help get them off the ground.

Ethanol has truly been a success story. A clean burning fuel made from renewable sources. A domestically produced fuel that adds value to chronically under-priced ag products and provides economic opportunity. A high quality, high octane fuel that adds to America’s energy supply. We look forward to ethanol’s continued and increasing success as a vehicle to move America toward energy independence.

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