‘Can’t’ Never Did Anything

By Bob Dinneen | October 18, 2011

America has always been a nation of doers. We have never shied away from tackling the hard challenges that keep America President Reagan’s shining city on the hill. Yet, when it comes to breaking our addiction to oil, all we seem to hear is the word “can’t.”

The latest report from the National Academy of Sciences is a perfect example of that can’t-do attitude surrounding energy innovation and domestic renewable fuels. The purpose of the report was to provide an assessment of the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS). Instead, it became a rehash of every criticism leveled against American ethanol production and more fodder for the environmental, meat, fast food and oil lobbies to dismiss the innovation and evolution of the industry.

The top finding as listed in the summary of the report was, “Absent major technological innovation or policy changes, the RFS2-mandated consumption of 16 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent cellulosic biofuels is unlikely to be met in 2022.” It is true that commercialization of next-generation biofuels will continue to be a challenge as long as the industry and investment community receive mixed signals from policymakers about whether there will be enduring support for biofuels. And, it is possible that the goals of the RFS could go unmet if we continually keep telling ourselves that we can’t do it.

This report is not the only evidence of cold water being thrown on America’s evolving biofuels market. Routinely, lobbyists for the environmental community tell us that the nation cannot produce ethanol and other biofuels because of scientifically unsubstantiated claims about indirect land use changes caused by American ethanol production. While these groups continue to erect roadblocks to America’s biofuel evolution, the world’s thirst for energy strengthens. As such, instead of harnessing the carbon-neutral benefits of renewable fuel production, America and the rest of the world is looking to marginal, environmentally devastating, and economically unsustainable sources of oil like Canadian tar sands.

Seeking to ensure its monopoly on the transportation fuels market, the oil lobby frequently points out its perceived challenges with renewable alternatives, such as the perpetual bogeymen about pipeline compatibility and cost competitiveness. We are told that America can’t satisfy its energy needs from renewable sources, so why bother.

The same can’t-do spirit even permeates offices on Capitol Hill where the lobbies intent upon stopping America’s march to greater reliance on ethanol and renewable energy sources have set up shop. Bill after bill is introduced to weaken or repeal forward-looking policies that seek to foster the development of a robust ethanol industry producing low-carbon, cost-effective ethanol from a wide range of feedstocks. The most recent assault on the RFS by Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Jim Costa, with the support of the corporate livestock industry, is a perfect example.

Instead of wringing our hands about the challenges associated with revolutionizing our energy supply, we should embrace the challenge in a manner that only Americans can. We need to broaden our thinking on energy policy, starting with an immediate end to the billions in subsidies channeled every year to the mature fossil fuel industry. We should be fostering an environment of success for new renewable fuel technologies by investing in advanced and cellulosic ethanol technologies. We must modernize our transportation fuel market, providing consumers with more choice in fuels, such as higher level ethanol blends, and vehicles that can utilize such choices. And, we need to ensure the bedrock of this evolving industry is sound by maintaining the integrity of the RFS.

America has never stood still or accepted the notion we can’t do something.  Americans were the first to fly. Americans eradicated polio. It was an American that was first to set foot on the moon. And, by tapping into this unmatched entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, we can be the nation that leads the world toward an end of fossil fuel reliance.

It’s far past time we got started. As the old saying goes: “Can’t” never did anything. 

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO of the
Renewable Fuels Association
(202) 289-3835