Clark advocates ethanol at event in Kansas

By Holly Jessen | January 04, 2010
Posted Jan. 26, 2010

Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark believes there are many benefits to advancing the ethanol industry-among them, creating jobs and improving the environment. However, for Clark, the chief reason is national security. "If you want to move this country toward energy independence there's only one way you can do it to strengthen our national security in the near term," he said, "and that's with a different liquid fuel."

Clark, co-chairman of the Growth Energy Board of Directors, spoke about this on Jan. 21, at ICM's headquarters in Colwich, Kan. Members of the media were invited to hear Clark talk about the ethanol industry and the importance of the Green Jobs Waiver.

Across the country, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, Clark joined Growth Energy and Ricardo Inc., an engine design and engineering company, were at the Washington, D.C., Auto Show to talk about a joint engine demonstration program. "The project will demonstrate how ethanol-powered vehicles can deliver diesel-like fuel economy and gasoline-like performance using dramatically downsized engines, with lower costs for automakers, savings for consumers, a cleaner environment and a reduced dependence on imported oil," according to a Growth Energy press release.

In March 2009, Growth Energy applied for a Green Jobs Waiver, asking the U.S. EPA to approve increasing the blend wall to E15. A "positive decision" on this is expected in May or June, Clark said at the event on Jan. 21.

If E15 were approved, it would spur what Clark called frantic activity and incredible economic growth in the industry. It would encourage reinvestment in the ethanol industry and create jobs. "There's about 400,000 jobs just waiting to fall off the lower limb of the apple tree just as soon as we make the decision to go to E15," Clark said. "And it will happen, and it will happen very quickly."

The ethanol industry, as it is, is already a profitable business in the United States. The industry supports half a million jobs and generates $6 billion a year. To increase that, it's a matter of changing the regulations that have limited ethanol producers, he said. "The technology is here," Clark said at the event. "This is not a tech problem, this is a government regulation problem."

In answer to a question as to why a NATO general was backing the ethanol industry, Clark told the audience in Kansas it was his convictions that led him to become co-chair of Growth Energy. In the 1970s, Clark explained, the country went from being an exporting nation to being an importing nation. The situation has gotten worse and worse with time and, today, America imports about 12 million barrels of oil. By relying on foreign oil, Clark said, the United States has "subsidized the threat abroad", indirectly sending funds to terrorist organizations. "There's really no doubt, is there, that we're in the Middle East… the Persian gulf and in Afghanistan, directly or indirectly because of the effects of 30 years of prolonged importation of oil to make up for the shortfall of domestic oil production in America," he said.

Increasing the blend wall would help this country move toward energy independence while bolstering national security. Specifically, it would allow the United States to decrease U.S. imports of foreign oil enough to, for example, stop importing oil from a country like Venezuela. "Almost a million barrels of oil a day will be removed from the imported side, and those resources saved and brought to bear in the American market, creating jobs … and improving the environment for Americans," he said.

There are a few other things that will need to fall into place to move the ethanol industry ahead. This country needs infrastructure, such as blender pumps and pipelines to move ethanol. In addition, more flex fuel vehicles are needed. Although Clark stressed that ethanol can be used with only minor modifications to today's vehicles, he also said additional mechanical engineering was needed to optimize engines to run off cleaner-burning ethanol. "It's all about the market, and right now the market is capped by the E15 decision," Clark said.