Replace Dichotomy with Unified Policy

By Mike Bryan | December 27, 2010
Does America want a robust renewable fuels industry or not? Government seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. The flip-flop between comments from the White House and the actions of the U.S. EPA, suggests a bit of a dichotomy. The White House seems to be committed to the development of a healthy biofuels program. President Obama said, "Now, I happen to believe that we should pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. It will make clean energy the profitable kind of energy, and the decision by other nations to do this is already giving their businesses a leg up on developing clean energy jobs and technologies. But even if you disagree on the threat posed by climate change, investing in clean energy jobs and businesses is still the right thing to do for our economy. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is still the right thing to do for our security. We can't afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds ahead." At the same time, the EPA took far longer than necessary to implement an E15 blend, even in light of overwhelming research at its disposal, and then confounded the matter by only doing so for 2007 vehicles and beyond. The guidelines for the renewable fuel standard do not allow for growth in the grain-to-ethanol side of the industry and the bar is set so low for cellulose that the motivation to develop and commercialize the technology by private industry is almost non-existent. Another example of biofuel dichotomies in government is the debate over easing or even lifting import tariffs for ethanol. Again, is it the objective of America to have a robust domestic biofuels industry? After all of the rhetoric about free trade, ethanol being a global commodity, and price equalization, it comes down to one simple fact. Opening the doors to a flood of imported ethanol will halt the development of the domestic industry. There simply are no economic, environmental or energy security reasons why the United States should even consider doing that. The current policy is working well, it allows for imports but at a rate that still encourages domestic production. Meeting the ethanol needs of America with ethanol imported from Brazil is absolutely counter-productive to the efforts to build a domestic industry over the past 30 years. What happens, for example, when Brazil has a marginal or small sugarcane crop and ethanol production is greatly reduced? The first cut will be exports, which means the United States has to cut back because we have not ramped up our own domestic production because of imports. Imports should be viewed as a supplement to our own production, not part of an overall strategic plan. If America is going to develop a biofuels industry that helps meet its energy security, economic and environmental objectives, then everyone in government must be singing in unison. A church choir may all have the same hymnal, but if they are singing different songs, it's a bit confusing to the congregation. That's the way I see it. Author: Mike Bryan Chairman, BBI International