With ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, American policymakers should be doing all they can to limit our entanglements with hostile regimes and our reliance on foreign oil. Energy security goes hand in hand with national security, and every barrel of oil we import from the Middle East and Venezuela puts more money in the pockets of corrupt regimes that hate everything for which we stand.
Over a decade ago, I was proud to support an innovative American energy policy that provides an on-ramp for renewable, made-in-America fuels like ethanol. The Renewable Fuel Standard has been successful in reducing our reliance on foreign oil and lowering our imports from the Middle East. So much so, in fact, that oil imports are down 50 percent since 2005, when we enacted the Renewable Fuel Standard with bipartisan support under President George W. Bush. Today, fuel blended with 10 percent or more ethanol accounts for 97 percent of gasoline consumed in motor vehicles. For once, Congress got something right.
The Renewable Fuel Standard has opened up markets controlled by the oil industry to American innovation. Every truckload of ethanol displaces more than 60 barrels of imported oil from politically unstable regions — with 527 million barrels of oil displaced last year alone. And biofuels are cost-competitive, clean-burning and free of the smog- and cancer-causing chemicals found in common gasoline additives. So, naturally, they are a threat to oil producers and their monopoly on transportation fuels.
Unfortunately, some are trying to restrict access to clean, renewable fuel options at the pump. For example, Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order on June 16 designed to discourage ethanol use. The order mandates that state agencies must fuel up their vehicles with “5 percent or less of ethanol” when the price is comparable to gasoline blended with higher concentrations. Aside from the fact that E5 doesn’t actually exist at gas stations — E10 is the standard blend — biofuel blends are almost always cheaper than regular gasoline. In fact, the addition of ethanol to our fuel supply has helped reduce gasoline prices by as much as 50 cents to $1.50 per gallon.
LePage’s executive order also directs the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to compile a report on “the human health effect of emissions produced by the combustion of ethanol.”
I will be the first to tell you that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gets a lot of things wrong, but the science on this was settled decades ago. Ethanol yields clear environmental benefits. According to Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, the Renewable Fuel Standard is “cutting carbon pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and sparking rural economic development.”
Scientists outside Washington agree. Researchers from Argonne National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated that ethanol boosts the octane in fuel, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and provides for better fuel economy. And the higher the blend, the greater the benefits.
LePage’s executive order is not good for rural America, our agricultural economy or our national security. The executive order sends a message that Mainers don’t understand the benefits of American-made fuels and, unfortunately, seems to mislead people about their health. The only financial winners in that situation are foreign oil interests, not Maine consumers.
Biofuels like ethanol are moving America forward, but I am not surprised that lawmakers not from major corn states don’t know that. The oil industry has perpetuated myths and misrepresentations about ethanol since the early days of ethanol production. As someone who has visited dozens of ethanol plants and studied the tremendous advances in efficiency, I encourage lawmakers to take the time to see ethanol production and learn about this innovative American success story. Our national security depends on it.
Rick Santorum is a former Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and co-chairman of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation.