World-Herald editorial: Sound reasons for ethanol

Source: Omaha World Herald • Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013

Washington’s latest outburst of ethanol opposition has noteworthy timing, as the nation’s ambitious renewable fuel standards ramp up to meet demands for more renewable fuel.

The timing matters because ethanol and biodiesel, unlike most alternative fuels, are piecing together better networks to get their products to market than any other threat to oil interests.

Here in the Midlands, farmers and industry are building out the crop, rail, highway and pipeline infrastructure to help the U.S. hit its lofty-but-achievable goal of displacing 36 billion gallons of traditional fuels with biofuels by 2022.

The efficiency of ethanol and biodiesel production continues to improve, and next-generation ethanol from nonfood plant material inches closer to reality with each scientific advance.

This is not the time to scale back, if internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency are to be believed that say the Obama administration is considering a backtrack.

Ethanol and biodiesel are important pieces of the U.S. energy puzzle. These cleaner-burning fuels often displace oil sold by hostile foreign sources, reduce fuel prices and increase farm income.

One need only look at how ethanol has helped the economies of Iowa and Nebraska, the top-producing states. It’s not just farm jobs; it’s implement dealers, bankers, major industrial operations, homebuilders and vehicle dealers.

In the short and medium term, ethanol helps corn stay profitable, and biodiesel offers a similar benefit for soybean growers. Corn prices more than doubled after the renewable fuels standards Congress passed in 2007.

Many of the scientific lessons from current biofuels will translate to the next generation. Much of the work being done now, much of the infrastructure, will give the Midlands an advantage. Just look at some of the cutting-edge biofuels research taking place at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ethanol’s critics do raise some legitimate questions, beginning with the small but real impact on food and animal feed prices and reaching into the amount of grassland being turned to farms. But few energy production methods are problem-free. Take a look at the environmental concerns over the production of oil through fracking, from refining tar sands, from drilling in the ocean depths.

The delay in writing a new farm bill hasn’t helped, nor has the lack of a coherent national energy policy or the recent drop in gasoline prices. The oil lobby is prepared for this fight.

Skepticism is the order of the day for members of the public being inundated with criticisms of ethanol in the political run-up to whether renewable fuel standards should be lowered.

Americans would do well to listen to Midlands members of Congress, including Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin and Iowa Reps. Steve King and Bruce Braley — strange political bedfellows but staunch, bipartisan champions of ethanol and biodiesel.

Now is the time for biofuel’s defenders to step up and share the sound public policy reasoning behind the federal renewable fuels standard and the economic importance of renewable fuels.