Renewable biofuels are vital to an all-of-the-above energy strategy

Source: By William Feehery, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2016

“All-of-the-above” might be one of the most overused energy policy slogans ever adopted by U.S. politicians, but there’s a fairly simple explanation why. It’s a common sense approach to what at times seems like an intractable policy juggernaut. And from the perspective of consumers, there’s no great reason to discourage any energy production here at home, especially when the alternative is to import the same fuel from a country that bears no love for the United States. The problem is that, as soon as gasoline prices stop making headlines for a while, some in the all-of-the-above caucus tend to forget about getting off foreign sources of energy.

One of the most vital and immediate tools at our disposal in the campaign for energy independence is renewable fuel. It is the only technology that can address the de-carbonization of the transport sector in the near term, which is what is so necessary and so challenging. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a bi-partisan law encouraging the development and use of alternative renewable fuels, is a critical policy that provides a vital cushion for U.S. drivers against volatile shifts in the global oil market. Since 2005, it has required oil companies to make increasing amounts of biofuel available to consumers as part of America’s fuel mix

The need for this policy remains as strong today as it was a decade ago. Sure, U.S. oil drilling peaked during the fracking boom, but even then we still imported about a third of our oil. After 100,000 oil industry layoffs last year, it’s fairly clear that America’s energy security can’t rely on one volatile sector. Biofuels provide the simplest, most cost-effective solution that can seamlessly integrate into our fuel supply now, not in the distant future.

But renewable energy isn’t a short-term patch that can be deployed every time tensions flare in the Middle East. It requires a long-term commitment by policymakers to ensure that American consumers have freedom and choice whether that is at the gas pump or in the electricity outlet. That’s why anyone who claims a spot at the all-of-the-above alter should be working to build up America’s biofuel capacity by supporting the RFS.

Some hide behind stale arguments that ethanol burns food, under-delivers economically, or requires large subsidies, but American innovation has overcome all these objections. The U.N. Global Food Price Index is lower today than it was when the RFS was extended in 2007. And thanks to rising production, the ethanol industry contributed nearly $44 billion to the nation’s GDP and added nearly $24 billion to household income in 2015. Taxpayers benefit too. Ethanol increased federal, state and local taxes by $8.7 billion in 2015, while Congress eliminated subsidies for corn starch ethanol under the Energy Title of the 2008 Farm Bill.

By shielding biofuel demand from short and mid-term geopolitical impact, the RFS has allowed America’s renewable industry to emerge as a global leader. The benefits have been tremendous for climate, consumer and the economy. Global ethanol production and use in the transportation sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 600 million metric tons over the past decade, the equivalent of taking more than 124 million cars off of the road.

Most importantly, protecting the RFS means protecting consumers. There are benefits at the pump: high ethanol content (E85) drivers save about 20 percent per gallon even at today’s crude oil prices. And when oil prices and gasoline prices spike, as they did in early 2008, and again in 2014, ethanol consumers can save anywhere from $.50 to $1.50 a gallon on E10, as a study by the renowned energy economist P.K. Verleger showed. There are also benefits for U.S. trade. Biofuels displaced as much gasoline as would be produced from over 500 million barrels of oil in 2015, more than the U.S. imported from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. As a result, the industry drives billions of dollars of economic activity across the United States, supporting, per the Renewable Fuels Association, more than 84,000 direct high-tech, green American jobs across manufacturing, engineering, science, research and development and many more indirect jobs.

Without a strong RFS, investments in advanced biofuel projects would flow to countries like Brazil and China with stronger and more stable policy commitments. According to the Energy Information Administration, China imported 70 million gallons of U.S. ethanol in 2015 – up from only 3 million gallons in 2014 – driven by air quality concerns and rising demand. We can continue this trade growth as a global energy leader, but not if our commitment to U.S. biofuel production lags behind our competitors.

All-of-the-above adherents should take note, and make sure that their energy priorities reflect solutions like the RFS that are proven to work and will secure our energy future for generations to come.

William Feehery is president of DuPont industrial Biosciences.