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Guest Editorial: America is Ready for Higher Blends
by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

In December 2007, landmark energy legislation was signed in to law that included several important provisions aimed at moving our country toward greater energy independence and addressing climate change. Of those varied provisions, the increased Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) has had the greatest impact on significantly changing our energy economy by supporting renewable sources of clean, homegrown energy.

By requiring the use of at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, the passage of this appropriately aggressive RFS signaled a critical shift in our country’s priorities with regard to energy production. The increased RFS is aggressive in the early years of the bill, calling for the use of 11.1 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2009 and increasing to 20.5 billion gallons by 2015.

However, there are obstacles standing in the way of reaching the ambitious goals set by the increased RFS and the resulting increase in the amount of renewable fuels available for consumption. Most notable of those obstacles are legal requirements that gasoline for use in non-flex fuel vehicles cannot be blended into a final product that is more than 10 percent ethanol. By not allowing greater percentages of ethanol to be blended with gasoline, more ethanol will be produced than can be blended, and therefore consumed, creating what has been termed an E10 “blend wall.”

Hitting this blend wall would effectively bring industry growth to a halt and significantly undermine the progress we have made in establishing renewable biofuels as a critical component in our country’s diverse energy portfolio. Additionally, the blend wall’s effect on the ethanol industry would adversely impact efforts to develop promising advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.

Many objections have been raised in response to calls for increasing the amount of ethanol than can be blended with gasoline, including from the U.S. automobile industry. However, at a time when the U.S. auto industry is requesting federal assistance from Congress, I believe that any aid should not only contain significant taxpayer protections, but also require serious and bold steps on behalf of the automakers to help our country move toward greater energy independence.

That’s why recently I wrote Speaker Pelosi and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank requesting that in order to access federal financing, U.S. automakers should: redouble their commitment to meet or exceed fuel economy standards set for them by Congress; agree not to place unfounded warranty objections in the way of the widespread adoption of mid-range ethanol blends like E15 for use in standard vehicles; and transform their aspirational goal for the production of flex-fuel vehicles – 50 percent of production by 2012 – to a hard and enforceable goal of reaching that level by 2012 or earlier.

These steps are each reasonable, achievable, and beneficial to our national energy policy. Taking these steps would also play an important role in meeting the ambitious requirements for fuel efficiency improvements and facilitating the transition to advanced biofuels that Congress set for the nation in the historic 2007 Energy Bill. A key to meeting the new RFS and ensuring the smooth transition to advanced biofuels under the RFS is preserving current ethanol infrastructure and reassuring investors that ethanol will remain viable as a path to advanced biofuels. The conditions outlined above would help to accomplish that goal.

Congress has another important role to play in complementing steps taken by automakers to support the use of clean, homegrown energy, by ensuring that consumers have greater access to biofuels at gas stations across the country. Earlier this year, I introduced the E85 and Biodiesel Access Act (H.R. 6734) which streamlines the process and provides greater incentives for service station owners to install clean-fuel vehicle refueling property, including blender pumps. This bill gives consumers the option to utilize clean sources of fuel that support rural economies and encourage American energy independence.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Association has said that if the E85 and Biodiesel Access Act became law: “the nation would have no less than 10,000 E85 fueling sites in a short period of time.” I’m hopeful that in the new Congress, we will pass similar legislation that would greatly increase the relatively small number of existing fuel pumps that dispense ethanol blends above 10 percent.

We must not waver in our commitment to renewable fuels. The passage of the historic RFS was only the beginning of a new energy economy in our country. Industry officials and government leaders must work together to ensure that a market exists for the renewable fuels as production levels increase. Through the cooperation of renewable energy and automobile industry leaders, Congress, and government agencies, we can reach our shared goal of achieving greater energy independence through the use of homegrown renewable fuels.

© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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