One of the most persistent issues facing America is our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.
Diversifying our nation’s energy sources is important to our overall economic and national security, and our emphasis must be primarily on developing energy from domestic renewable sources. Ethanol and other biofuels are already an important part of our nation’s energy strategy. However, we have several obstacles to overcome before ethanol is able to compete on a level playing field with imported oil.
One of the greatest strengths of the biofuels industry is that the technology needed to produce and consume biofuels is constantly evolving. The American auto manufacturers have made great strides in developing new flex-fuel vehicles that can run on fuel blends as high as E85 (85 percent ethanol), and these new vehicles are beginning to make inroads among auto buyers. While more than seven million vehicles across the country are able to run on higher blends, Congress can do more to promote the production of new flex-fuel vehicles, such as enacting the Open Fuels Standard Act or extending the flex-fuel vehicle CAFE credit. Adapting our auto fleet to be more in line with our domestically produced fuel supply is a critical step toward greater energy independence.
Of course, flex-fuel vehicles will only be successful if there is greater access to higher ethanol fuel blends. Making higher blends of ethanol available to a broader market will require more fueling stations with blender pumps. Congress is again in a position to expand incentives for gas station owners to increase the overall availability of higher blends. Greater production of flex-fuel vehicles will result in higher demand for higher blends, and stations and ethanol producers must be ready to meet that need. While we have made great strides with increasing the number of stations that offer higher blends, this amounts to less than two percent of all refueling stations nationwide.
While the market for higher blends and flex-fuel vehicles is important for our overall long-term strategy, the greatest near-term priority is moving to an intermediate blend of ethanol for conventional on-road vehicles. The success of E10 should not be understated since it accounts for the overwhelming majority of ethanol use, but there is no reason to hold back the use of blends as high as E15 or E20 in conventional vehicles. Numerous studies have shown that conventional engines run well on E15, but the approval of E15 hinges upon the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Without question, ethanol has earned a place in our nation’s overall energy strategy. It uses domestically produced resources, creates jobs throughout the United States, and reduces the amount of oil we have to import from other, sometimes hostile, nations. However, Congress must address the infrastructure challenges and expand the market for domestically produced renewable fuel. Only then will American made biofuel compete on a level playing field with imported oil.
Senator John Thune of S.D. is an avid ethanol advocate. He has served in the Senate for S.D. since 2005 and currently serves on the Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee; the Armed Services Committee, the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee and the Small Business Committee.