As the first legislator to introduce a biofuels bill in the Mississippi State House, I am deeply concerned that the Obama administration is making a huge mistake when it comes to determining the United States’ commitment to renewable fuels. Last week, the administration released a proposed Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), and it could guarantee that oil will be the dominant transportation fuel for decades.
This is because the Environmental Protection Agency has included a loophole in the RFS that will allow oil companies to dramatically scale back the program. For all intents and purposes, EPA is giving oil companies the right to determine their capacity to distribute biofuels.
Oil companies have lobbied the EPA very hard for this loophole. They assert that because Americans are using less gasoline every year, they have to raise the percentage of biofuels in the gasoline and diesel they sell to comply with the RFS. Therefore, this creates a “blend wall” because some gasoline pumps and vehicle engines and parts are not able to handle higher blends of biofuels.
While this “blend wall” narrative sounds reasonable, it is not accurate. The EPA has looked at those concerns, and approved a higher blend of biofuel than we currently have today. The agency has found a 15 percent blend — as opposed to the 10 percent blend most gas stations sell today — to be safe for most engines and fueling infrastructure. Something else to consider is the fact that the oil companies, who control most gas stations, have also intentionally made it hard or impossible for station owners to use higher blends of biofuels. The oil companies have done everything they can to create the perception of a “blend wall” to then use it as an excuse to not comply with the RFS.
What is clear about allowing the oil companies to blend less biofuel into our fuel supply is that it could be a huge financial windfall for oil companies. What is less clear is how it benefits consumers, rural economies, our national security or the environment.
From the standpoint of the driver, having more choice at the fuel pump generally means lower prices. While gasoline might be cheap today, does anyone really believe that the oil companies won’t find a way to get prices back up? That seems unlikely, and biofuels help bring down the cost of gasoline when oil prices are high.
In small cities and towns all across the nation, biofuels play an essential role in supporting those local economies. Farming is a tough business, and anything we can do to help farmers is essential. What American wouldn’t prefer to get their fuel from the Midwest rather than the Middle East?
From a national security standpoint, renewable fuels allow us to source a larger percentage of our energy requirements at home and reduce our consumption of oil. Oil is a commodity sold on the world market, and since we consume more than any other nation, our demand drives up the price of oil worldwide. Our insatiable demand means that we are enriching the nations around the world who use their oil money to fund terrorist groups like al Qaeda, threaten Israel and destabilize the Middle East.
Lastly, from an environmental standpoint, biofuels burn much cleaner than traditional fuels made from oil. There has also never been a biofuels spill in the Gulf of Mexico or on the California coast. As someone who has spent most of his life in and around the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, let me assure you that the BP oil spill is still having terrible repercussions on that sensitive environment – no matter what the BP commercials say.
I would like to add that I have long supported the oil industry and this is not a change of heart. Oil companies are critical to the nation’s well being and create many good paying jobs in my home state. An RFS that expands our nation’s commitment to biofuels won’t change that.
As the Obama administration considers the RFS over the next few months, it is critical to ensure that the so-called “blend wall” not be used as an excuse to walk away from biofuels. Renewable sources of energy should be part of the nation’s future, not just our past.
Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, represented Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District from 1999 – 2003.