Congressman Gardner: Tear. Down. This. (Blend)Wall.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Only Nixon could go to China.

Only oil-man George W. Bush could deliver a national Renewable Fuels Standard and create the world's largest wind-energy market.

Perhaps only my Congressman can catalyze a very different conversation on Capitol Hill about the role of renewable fuels in our nation's future. 

With increasing regularity, political attacks masked as journalism have replaced a national press corps that once served as a legitimate arbiter of fact.  As it turns out, the AP article was devoid of a laundry list of facts.  Yet another in a series of well-funded efforts by Big Oil to undermine our march to an economy less-dependent on fossil fuel while building our national economic, security and energy resilience.  (In June of this year, the US Supreme Court ruled against the American Petroleum Institute, etal. on their challenge to E-15.) 

If there is any one thing the renewable fuels industry can count on – this won't be the last time they'll be up against the Big Oil legal team. 

Interests with that kind of money don't like to be told 'no".

If one took the AP story and inserted 'Bakken Field' or 'fracking" for every reference to ethanol, you'd get a more complete picture of the assault on our environment by those industries.  Funny enough, no one on Capitol Hill is calling for an end to the extraction activities of those precious, finite resources.

It isn't that hard to do the math.

There is more-often-than-not substantial costs, both seen and unseen, to "walls" – they can manifest themselves in many ways: physical walls intended to separate the free from the oppressed;  political walls that prevent an engaged public from participatory democracy.  Regulatory walls that maintain monopolistic powers in a theoretical free-markets.  Economic walls that perpetuate poverty and concentrate wealth.

From an energy perspective the United States is the East German-equivalent side of the Berlin Wall.  An economy controlled by Big Oil – an industry long-addicted to public subsidy, parading as a free-market provider of cheap energy.  A government literally occupied by the monied interests of the industry [they have spent in excess of $105 million in lobbyist this year alone]; a society under siege by a hostile climate created by the industries emissions.  A society longing for a different form of energy governance.

Our energy future lies on the west side of the wall.

But first, Congress must "Tear down this wall" – the oil-industry's self-imposed blend wall – used as a shield to insulate itself from a growing, national biofuel supply and to reject any further growth in the industry.

Congressman, let's start a very different discussion on Capitol Hill.  A discussion about the benefits to this nation in eliminating the blend wall; the benefits of an open-market place for liquid fuels produced by rural America.  An infrastructure that gives American consumers a choice.  Let's talk about the economic benefits to rural America, not the least of which is our shared home county of Yuma.  Let's talk about lowering health costs related to the aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylene) that currently make up 30% by volume of the current gasoline supply and displacing them with advanced biofuels. 

Let's set the stage to unleash America's technological and entrepreneurial prowess to lead the world in the Third Industrial Revolution.

Let's start this discussion today amongst your peers in the US House of Representatives. Many of the regions in the US richest in natural resources are experiencing the most extreme depopulation.  There is a significant disconnect between our federal energy policy, rural jobs and infrastructure investment. 

Here's my thoughts on the transition:

  • * Call for hearings with EPA and demand they exercise their authority under the Clean Air Act to eliminate aromatics from our nation's fuel supply.  A 2007 MATS study conducted by the EPA concluded they could be replaced by ethanol.  At the time the economics of that transition made the transition challenging: we were under-producing ethanol to meet the RFS and oil was trading at $20/bbl.  Today, that equation has flipped.  MATS is not scheduled to be re-visited until 2017.  Call for an early re-opening.  This is one example where EPA action can produce significant, new jobs in rural America by exercising their existing authority -  and it will save us an estimated $36 billion/yr in health costs, too.
  • * Mandate that car manufacturers equip all new cars sold in the United States as flex fuel capable. Before someone in your caucus has a heart attack – I'm not suggesting the consumption of biofuels be mandated.  I'm suggesting we mandate the vehicles ability to do so. Let the consumer be empowered to make that decision.  And the cost of this is low.
  • * Incentivize the retrofit of the legacy (existing) vehicle fleet to maximize the efficient combustion of the fuels. We need smart engines as much as we need smart fuels. Today's combustion engine has changed little in its basic design in over a century.  The reduction in fuel economy with ethanol is a symptom of today's engines not being able to benefit from the octane levels – not an indictment on the fuel.
  • * Call for a doubling of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, accomplished through a broad network of advanced biofuel plants across the nation – a partnership led by USDA and the Department of Defense.

This isn't a challenge we can solve overnight – but we must begin the transition.  And we can't solve the problem without addressing all components of the system at the same time.  The opportunities for our shared, rural landscapes are too immense to dismiss. 

Before Reagan arrived at the wall to make his speech, some say the inertia of the transition to a free and unified Germany was already in motion. Some say it took a transformative leader to create the tipping point.  In either case, history has been kind to the Gipper.

In this case much of the inertia, too, is already in place.  Farmers investing in biofuel facilities; our very own Yuma County vying to be the alternative energy capital of Colorado.  Rural communities nationwide are experiencing the benefits of this new energy economy.  Our own Colorado State University is leading the transformation

What we need is a tipping point.

This is your Berlin Wall moment.

 

4 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    The tipping point would be when it makes more economic sense to go to renewables. Of course, it already makes environmental sense. For Congressman Gardner, probably neither of these would suffice, yet, because he gets so much campaign money from oil and gas industries. Renewables just don't have that kind of congress purchasing power.

    We'll probably just have to get him defeated in an election, and get someone in who is more open to renewables.

    I was delighted to see a linked article from Dr. Amory Lovins. Rocky Mtn Institute was and still is one of the pioneers in planning for a transition from fossil fuels to a more sustainable fuel economy.

    As always, great job in putting together the "big picture".

  2. MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

    Amory is doing great work.  The core, fatal flaw with governement in this case [as is most cases] is that if decisions were made from a 'systems approach', we would have very different outcomes.

    In this case, the direct and indirect health costs from the aromatics is staggering.  It's estimated approaching $300 billion since they've had the authority to regulate them out of the supply. A Bush-era study showed that for every dollar invested in local plants, $7 dollars in economic activity is generated. 

    The most conservative study shows that ethanol has reduced the price of gasoline by 17 cents per gallon [most studies put that number around 50 cents] because our US biofuel supply has kept pressure on the global monopoly in oil 

    What gets almost no press is that rising corn prices [in part because of the increased demand for corn] signifcantly lowered the federal subsidies paid to farmers under the indirect payment part of the program.  I'd argue that higher corn costs are, in general, a better alternative to pervaise, artifically-low prices that we've had for a couple of decades.

    That's a long way to say that if we looked at our energy system as a whole system, policy would take us to a very different place.  Like the arguments against cheap coal – a systems approach shows it has a very high cost.  American industry has mastered the art of privatizing profits and socializing the costs of externalities.

    It's also a longer way of saying there is nearly no one in Congress that looks at any of these issues in total.  And thus, by design, policy almost always delivers us the most expensive approach – masked as cheap energy.  Just the way the American Petroleum Institute and the coal lobby likes it to be.

    I hope Congressman Gardner's staff is paying attention.  A different approach to this issue saves the economy a lot of money – and creates scores of lasting, good jobs in the rural sector.

  3. ajb says:

    Michael, here's a great read:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/11/11/131111fa_fact_specter

    There are a couple of jaw-dropping assertions in there, like by 2050 it will no longer be economically viable to grow corn in Kansas, mostly due to an increase in extreme weather.

    • MichaelBowmanMichaelBowman says:

      I don't disagree with a lot of those assertions.  And as much as Senator Brophy likes him lots and lots of carbon dioxide for his corn – when the water is gone, the corn will be as well.  That's why I've devoted so much of my time to alternative feedstocks, primarily industrial hemp [but there are others].  We have to start setting the stage for the transition. 

      As is often the case, anytime I say biofuels most people tend to hear "corn".  The future of biofuels won't be predominantly corn-based – it will come from waste and cellulosic resources.  That said, I am no apologist for what corn has done to set us on this path.  It has been the key component and has played a tremendously important role in the launch of this industry.  But the facts remain, corn grown over the Ogallala Aquifer only accounts for 11% of the nation's corn supply – and that water resource will likely be mined to practical extinction in my lifetime.  Throw in the extreme weather that's upon us and the eqution will take the region to a very different place than it is today.

      The rural electrics whose entire economic model is built around electricity sales to irrigators are doomed to bankrupcy if they don't start shifting their focus to an "export" model.  These same regions are the Saudi Arabia of wind, solar and biomass.  We should be leading this charge to a national energy transition – not being drug in to it.  Which I would contend is the reason SB-252 is not only a good idea, and good public policy…but entirely necessary.

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