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EPA Decision Threatens Economic Growth And Energy Independence

By Senator Ben Nelson

Given the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s good to know you don’t have to drill a mile down to reach ethanol. It’s growing all around us, which is good for Nebraska, the second largest ethanol-producing state in the nation and getting bigger all the time.

I had the honor of speaking at the expansion of an ethanol plant last week as Nebraska continues doing its part to quench our growing thirst for this clean fuel that is doing so much in America’s battle for energy security. It’s unfortunate that delays by the federal Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are needlessly jeopardizing our made-in-America ethanol industry.

Another Delay from the EPA

The EPA recently delayed its decision on whether to allow an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent.  The question has been under EPA review for over a year and a decision already has been delayed a number of times before.

It’s very disappointing and will also slow down development of next generation American renewable energy at a time we are striving to be more energy independent.  This also puts jobs in Nebraska and the U.S. at risk, and prevents compliance with a federal Renewable Fuel Standard. It thwarts our efforts to take the next step in the development of cellulosic and future generations of biofuels needed to meet that 2022 requirement.

While the EPA sits on its hands, ethanol producers will soon hit the E10 cap or ‘blend wall,’ producing more ethanol than can be used under current restrictions.  This is yet another delay on a decision that was supposed to have been made in December of last year.

Delay Puts Energy Security at Risk

The EPA’s move needlessly continues our reliance on foreign sources of fuel, rather than replacing imported gasoline with ethanol produced from fields across Nebraska and elsewhere.  It prevents us from further developing high-paying green jobs in our small communities that will reinvest in our rural economy.

And we are missing an important opportunity to improve our environment, with clean-burning ethanol that produces 59 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline—a statistic that will likely improve with the continued development and efficiencies of second generation biofuels.

I’ve made these points to federal officials and will do so again this week when I meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. I’ve also pointed out what they should already know that a 15 percent blend is not a problem. All they need to do is look to Brazil to see that. Brazil currently blends ethanol with gasoline at a rate of 20-25 percent with no damage to vehicle engines.

EPA Should Speed Things Up

The EPA has indicated in the past that it will raise the blend, but it needs to move more quickly if we are to meet a Congressional mandate that calls for more ethanol use. I made that point in a letter to the President because the mandate simply cannot be achieved unless a 15 percent blend is allowed.

The mandate requires refiners to blend 12.9 billion galls of biofuels this year, of which 12 billion comes from ethanol.  The amount grows in future years to 36 billion gallons by the year 2022 with a significant amount coming from ethanol.

The ethanol industry has worked very hard to help our economy and our battle for energy independence. Now the EPA and the Energy Department need to do their part and get in gear, not just stay in neutral.