Recent Op-Eds

Two of the biggest issues facing our nation today are the need for job creation and our overdependence on imported energy. In South Dakota, we have seen the positive effect that renewable fuels production can have on job growth, and we recognize that biofuels can reduce our dependence on imported oil. I believe that biofuels can make an even greater contribution to our country’s economic health and national security, but there are causes for concern with the Obama Administration’s current biofuels policy.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final rule for implementing the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which was enacted with the 2007 Energy Bill. The RFS requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2020, with 21 billion gallons being cellulosic ethanol. In order to qualify for the RFS, fuels must be certified as having lower greenhouse gas emissions than their petroleum fuel counterparts.

Under the EPA’s rule, domestic ethanol is punished by so-called indirect land use calculations. EPA is relying on flawed models and an ideological slant to count carbon emitted by land use decisions in other countries against American ethanol production. The addition of this measure to ethanol’s greenhouse gas score could result in some production methods not satisfying the RFS or future low-carbon policies.

EPA is similarly handicapping the growth of biofuels by dragging its feet on the approval of higher blends for use in conventional vehicles. Currently, the highest approved blend of ethanol in conventional gasoline is E10 (90 percent gasoline, 10 percent ethanol). Numerous studies have shown that blends as high as E15 run just as well as E10 in conventional engines, but attempts to approve higher blends for widespread use have been held up by the EPA. Last December, the EPA missed the statutory deadline to decide on a request to move to E15, and a decision still has yet to be reached. Without a move to higher blends, ethanol production will soon exceed consumption, jeopardizing many jobs and seriously impacting our nation’s efforts to reduce consumption of foreign oil.

The EPA is not the only prominent force in Washington undercutting the renewable energy industry’s effort to expand and create jobs. During the conference negotiations between the House of Representatives and the Senate on the 2007 Energy Bill, environmental advocates included a provision that prevents biofuels refined from national forest forestry byproducts from counting toward the RFS. Again, this is an example of dubious, ideologically-driven policy triumphing over common sense. Removing wood waste and slash piles greatly reduces the danger of forest fires, both in our national forests and on surrounding private forest land. This definition was also finalized as part of EPA’s recent RFS rulemaking.

Promises made by elected officials about creating jobs do not amount to much if the government is standing in the way of industries that are proven engines of economic growth. The biofuels revolution has had a significant impact on South Dakota, and that growth can be expanded to other parts of the country in the future. Congress and the Administration must work to craft a renewable fuels policy that rewards the job creators in the economy, not one that holds them back.