What We Really Need For a Choice at the Fueling Pump

By Tom Buis | June 10, 2010
It will be some time before we grasp the full scope of the epic catastrophe to the environment following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even so, this spill proves that if we do not break our addiction to oil, we will be forced to maintain our reliance on foreign nations for our supply, as well as drill in areas that are increasingly risky to the ecology.

In other words, if we want to strengthen our national security and ensure our energy future, the U.S. must not just become independent of foreign oil—but must break oil's hold over our economy as a strategic commodity. We must increase the production and consumption of alternatives to oil, particularly domestic ethanol.

National security experts such as former CIA Director James Woolsey, Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, and Retired General Wesley K. Clark agree that the United States must change the way we view oil—and boost the alternatives, in order to reduce the influence oil has over our economy and ultimately our safety as a nation.

As both Luft and Woolsey have said, in many ways salt was similar to oil in terms of its hold over the world's economies until the end of the 19th century. Countries went to war and blood was spilled over access to salt. Why? Because salt was vital to preserving food. What changed? Technology developed, and refrigeration ended salt's role as a strategic commodity. Today, we put salt on the roads when it snows.

Like salt, oil is a strategic commodity because of its dominance as a transportation fuel. Wars are fought over the control and access to oil, leaving cartels to seek weapons, armies and strong-arm control over their people. Every day, the United States economy bleeds $1 billion to countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria for oil—equivalent to a $1,000 tribute by every man, woman and child in this country to the economies of foreign countries. Our nation's dependence on oil is crippling our economy and threatening our ability to be a leader in the global market. It is clearly not in the best interest of the United States to be dependent solely upon one commodity—especially when alternatives, such as clean, renewable ethanol, exist.

To end our oil dependence, we must do the same thing to oil that we did to salt: we must transform oil from the one commodity that controls all others into a traditional commodity by giving consumers a choice at the pump. By giving consumers a genuinely open fuels market, and giving them choices, we can break oil's hold.

By investing in existing technology, in the form of blender pumps and flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs)—which are capable of operating on conventional gasoline, renewable fuels or any combination of such fuels—we can create a platform on which fuels can compete against each other.

Growth Energy is working to promote the construction of fuel-dispensing infrastructure and FFVs to help deliver more ethanol to consumers. We know that ethanol can play a significant role in cleaning the air, creating U.S. jobs and securing our national and economic defense.

Building out our nation's fueling infrastructure will allow the consumer to choose between foreign oil and domestic fuel, strengthening our national security and our domestic economy—all while reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing the likelihood of other catastrophic offshore oil spills like what we see in the Gulf of Mexico. Stripping oil of its strategic status will protect our economy from cartel-driven price spikes and from the threats caused by global instability, terrorism and natural disaster.

Over the next few months, Growth Energy will work with policymakers across the country to establish an open fuels market that will help achieve these goals. Ending oil's monopoly will help secure our shores, revitalize our rural economies and improve our environment.

Tom Buis is CEO of Growth Energy. He can be reached at tbuis@growthenergy.org or (202) 545-4000.