Advocating for a Higher Blend

By Tom Buis | April 14, 2009
With all the recent news headlines, it can be tough to adopt a positive outlook. I am optimistic, however, because last month we took an important step in the right direction for America. Growth Energy and more than 50 other companies submitted a Green Jobs Waiver to the U.S. EPA asking to lift the decades-old arbitrary cap that limits ethanol to 10 percent in a gallon of gas. Shortly afterward, many voices endorsed the move to a higher blend, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, several members of Congress and representatives from diverse organizations. These leaders understand that lifting the cap on ethanol to up to 15 percent will create green-collar jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The benefits of ethanol use to our economic prosperity are indisputable and are poised to become one of America's greatest job creating engines. In 2008, the industry created or supported half a million jobs. According to a study conducted by North Dakota State University researchers, expanding the amount of ethanol in our gasoline to 15 percent could create more than 130,000 new jobs—without using stimulus dollars and without a government bailout. In my years working in rural America, I've seen the benefits to communities when a new ethanol plant comes to town; it can bring hope and breathe new life into some of our hardest hit communities.

In addition to the job creation and direct dollar impact on our economy, moving to a 15 percent blend will ensure a market for second-generation biofuels, which will be critical to grow this new economy. While cellulosic ethanol and other green fuels have the promise to create tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs and cut GHG emissions by up to 86 percent compared with gasoline, we will never realize the full potential of these fuels with this cap. Currently, more than 300 million gallons of planned cellulosic ethanol is waiting to come on line, but is stalled because of the lack of an available market. That's why leaders from cellulosic companies wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to take swift action to lift the cap. If we don't increase the blend of ethanol in our gasoline supply, many cellulosic ethanol projects will be cancelled or postponed—and with it all of those related jobs.

The benefits don't end there. By using E10, the U.S. has reduced its dependence on foreign oil. Based on 2007 U.S. gasoline consumption, increasing that level from E10 to E15 will avoid the importation of another 7 billion gallons of gasoline annually.

In addition to our Green Jobs Waiver, another option before our government is the possibility of a quick move to E12 or E13. USDA and EPA could do this by increasing the blend of ethanol in our gas through a substantially similar waiver for E12 or E13. Unfortunately, some people oppose a higher blend, even with all of the economic benefits, because they don't know about the advancements in efficiency, farming and production we've made recently. Modern ethanol plants are higher-tech and greener than ever. Today's producers have increased ethanol production per bushel of corn, while reducing the energy consumed in ethanol production by more than 20 percent and water use by more than 25 percent.

Research published in Yale University's Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that today's plants produce 59 percent fewer GHG emissions than gasoline. Moving from our current E10 blend to E15 means a reduction of an additional 20 million metric tons of GHG emissions per year, which is the equivalent of removing 10.5 million vehicles from the road. We need to discuss this with our friends, neighbors and legislators.

Ethanol is the only viable, available substitute for gasoline that is clean and green, high-tech and homegrown. We should lift the outdated 10 percent cap and enable America's farmers and ethanol producers to deliver on ethanol's full potential. Doing so will create jobs, protect our environment and boost our national security. We just need the government to allow us to follow the law as it is laid out in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. Lifting the cap is a common sense solution to our current economic crisis and I urge you to get involved by joining the discussion or contacting your members of Congress. More information on how to get involved can be found at GoE15.com.

Tom Buis is the chief executive officer of Growth Energy. Reach him at TBuis@GrowthEnergy.org or (402) 932-0567.