When Congress expanded the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, it did so with three important policy objectives in mind.
First, the program was intended to enhance U.S. energy security by displacing imported petroleum and diversifying the transportation-fuels market.
Second, it endeavored to strengthen the farm economy by adding value to agricultural commodities.
Finally, by requiring the use of advanced biofuels, the RFS was intended to drive innovation and new technologies for the production of even cleaner fuels.
Without question, the RFS has lived up to its promise. The increased production of ethanol and other biofuels has helped drive dependence on imported petroleum to an eight-year low. Gasoline imports have plunged from 600,000 barrels per day in 2005 to nearly zero in 2013.
Meanwhile, the RFS has catalyzed an economic renaissance in the agriculture sector. Net farm income crested $100 billion for the first time in 2011, and USDA expects a new record in 2013.
Values for agricultural products, including meat and grain, are up across the board. Farmers are earning their income from a demand-driven marketplace, and farm-program payments are at 15-year lows.
Further, cellulosic ethanol is now being produced at a plant in Florida, and several other commercial-size advanced biofuels facilities are under construction across the United States. The policy has worked.
Unfortunately, it seems some lawmakers and business leaders have lost sight of these benefits and have forgotten the basic objectives of the program. The goals of a more secure and diverse energy supply, a healthier farm economy and a cleaner environment should remain a national priority.
Of course, the oil industry is going to look at the situation from its own perspective.
Using more renewable fuel means using less petroleum, and that is not something that interests the oil industry. Refiners have already lost 10 percent of the gasoline market to ethanol, and they are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to block cleaner, cheaper biofuels from taking more market share.
Criticism of biofuel isn’t justified. We should look at Brazil as an example — all of their fuel is a blend — either 25 percent or 85 percent ethanol.
On another front, I don’t want to hear any more argument that we should not use corn for fuel because it pushes up the price of food. The facts don’t justify that argument. Food prices continue to increase a modest 2 percent per year as they have for decades.
This transition to greener renewable fuels can continue only if the EPA and Congress stick to their guns in implementing the RFS. I was on the farm this week harvesting corn. It is a bumper crop. We will be buried in corn. The RFS has been too successful for consumers and farmers alike to turn back now. The message is simple, “Don’t Mess with the RFS.”