Comment: To fight ISIS, Americans can use less oil

Source: By David May, Des Moines Register • Posted: Saturday, January 3, 2015


The United States again finds itself drawn into a dangerous Middle Eastern conflict as coalition forces direct airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds. As with previous wars in the region, our aim is not just to destroy our enemy’s capacity for terrorism but also its control over a single commodity that finances its operations: Oil.

At one time, according to the Pentagon, ISIS was grossing an estimated $2 million in revenues each day from oil sales, and some experts believe the figure even higher. Without question, the first step in crippling the terrorist organization should be cutting off its profits from the oil market.

But sadly, our continued addiction to petroleum here in the U.S. and across the globe makes doing so nearly impossible, and the rise of ISIS on the profits of the oil trade should remind us all that our oil dependence is dangerous and unsustainable.

Thus far, elected officials have opted to use military force to protect our national security by disrupting ISIS’s ability to bring a supply to the oil market. But another option — one that every American can play a part in — is decreasing the amount of oil needed to fuel our cars, trucks and heavy machinery.

“Energy must have a seat at the table when it comes to national security and foreign policy,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, lamented when discussing ways to dismantle the Islamic State.

The senator is right on that count. And a big part of that equation is diversifying our transportation fuels portfolio so that we’re not beholden to any single fuel source.

That was the idea behind the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, a law that was signed by President George W. Bush in 2005 with huge bipartisan support — not surprisingly as we found ourselves in another long, protracted war in the Middle East where our oil interests also played a critical role.

The RFS has been one of the most successful energy policies in recent history. We now get nearly 10 percent of our fuel supplies from homegrown alternative fuels, and it’s not just ethanol. Biodiesel, an EPA-designated advanced biofuel made in communities across the country from recycled cooking oil, plant oils, and animal fats, has ramped up production and last year displaced nearly 1.8 billion gallons of imported petroleum diesel, or nearly 5 percent of the on-road U.S. diesel market.

Reducing oil imports at a time when consumption is on the rise, biodiesel production has helped to create more than 62,000 green jobs and billions of dollars in wages. With nearly 6.5 billion gallons used from 2005 to 2013, biodiesel has reduced lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 58 million metric tons, the same impact as removing more than 12 million passenger vehicles from America’s roadway. And by creating new alternatives to oil, the RFS helps to lower the price at the pump. Independent analysis by economist Philip Verleger found the RFS has saved consumers as much as $2.6 billion in 2013 alone.

Despite these benefits — and the constant reminders of the dangers of our oil addiction — the RFS is currently in a state of turmoil as a result of indecision from the Obama administration.

Late last year, instead of growing the RFS, the EPA proposed scaling it back, including a cut in the obligated biodiesel volumes from last year’s actual production. Now, after another 12 months of delays, the EPA has announced it will do nothing until sometime next year. Meanwhile, biodiesel producers and the environmental, economic and energy security benefits they provide have been left in limbo.

It is past time that the EPA provide direction to biodiesel producers for 2014 and now 2015. We will either continue the progress we have made in diversifying our fuel supplies, or we will regress into a world more and more dependent on petroleum from dangerous parts of the world.

The author

DAVID MAY is a Gulf War veteran and serves as a specifications manager at the Iowa Department of Transportation. Contact: