Prompted by lower oil prices and the beginning of the driving season, Americans are expected to start hitting the highways again. We will be turning to the oil rich countries with unstable or unfriendly governments to fuel our cars. The U.S. imports 70% of our oil at a cost of 475 billion dollars a year.
There is some good news. In 2008 alone, we produced 9 billion gallons of ethanol (which accounted for 7 percent of U.S. gasoline sales), replacing 321 million barrels of imported oil. That was the equivalent of eliminating oil imports from Venezuela for 10 months – or not importing any oil from anywhere for 33 days – and it saved our country more than $30 billion.
That’s a good start, but we can do more. The U.S. should encourage the growth of the domestic renewable biofuels industry, including the production of ethanol from corn starch and newer, non-food (or “cellulosic”) feed stocks, such as wood chips, grasses, agricultural waste, and even garbage.
Biofuels can revitalize rural America by creating thousands of jobs. In fact, last year, in the midst of a deepening recession, the industry produced and sold a record 9 billion gallons, opened 31 new biorefineries, and created an additional 240,000 new jobs. This year, the industry is poised to produce more than 10 billion gallons, which would represent almost 9 percent of the nation’s gasoline supply.
Also, using and producing ethanol is good for the environment as well as the economy. As scientific studies have reported, using ethanol instead of gasoline can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48 to 59 percent.
The suggestion that the production of ethanol from corn is driving up food prices is nonsense. The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that there are 2.8 billion hectares of uncultivated land in the world that is suitable for rain-fed farming. It’s not being farmed. That’s a valuable wasted resource. On top of that, with the explosive technological advances in biotech seeds and farming practices, we expect to double production by 2030 on the same number of acres anyway.
The sky is the limit.
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.