With all the hype surrounding the oil boom, it’s tempting to pretend that America is on a glide path toward energy independence.
Unfortunately, even as fracking reached new heights, America’s total domestic crude oil production declined in 2016. According to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that lost domestic energy production was quickly replaced by rising imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with Iraq leading the pack as the fastest growing source of America’s imported oil.
This boom-and-bust cycle has been playing out since the 1970s, when foreign oil ministers first attempted to hold America’s economy hostage. Those of us old enough to remember can still picture lines of cars winding around the block from every filling station. Thankfully, the episode prompted a renewed focus on energy security that eventually gave rise to policies like the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
I worked with then Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota to pass the RFS over 11 years ago. It was later extended by the Congress, and today, ethanol and other biofuels meet about 10 percent of our transportation fuel needs. America’s dependence on oil imports has fallen by half since 2005, and the rising contributions of renewable energy sources continue to surpass expectations.
Some argue that renewable energy goals conflict with free markets, but that’s never been true. Even at today’s relatively low prices, petroleum-based fuels cost far more than homegrown ethanol, which sells for about $1.60 per gallon.
But it could be even lower. Biofuel producers don’t have the luxury of selling directly to customers in a competitive market. Biofuels are sold to oil refiners and importers before they can be added to the fuel mix found at local gas stations.
For years, these companies limited consumer options at the pump. The legacy of that monopoly is our continued vulnerability to price manipulation by foreign energy producers within OPEC that have now joined forces with Russia to cut global energy supplies and increase prices for U.S. drivers.
To insulate consumers from this threat, the RFS requires oil refiners to make biofuel blends available to consumers, and demand continues to grow as retailers seek to market lower-cost, higher-octane options. With that growth has come lower prices and economic development in states like Oregon, where companies like Pacific Ethanol and SeQuential Biodiesel produce homegrown fuels.
As an agricultural leader, Oregon is already home to nearly 16,000 jobs supported by biofuel production. As an added benefit, the process leaves all the nutrients and protein intact, generating a surplus of low-cost animal feed that helps Oregon ranchers keep our grocery coolers stocked with top-quality meat.
Homegrown biofuels also dramatically reduce carbon emissions. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that conventional ethanol emits 43 percent fewer emission than gasoline, and that number is on the rise thanks to innovations in sustainable agricultural.
Unfortunately, fossil fuel interests are as adept at maneuvering politicians as they are at manipulating prices, and the RFS remains an ongoing target for those who want to turn back the clock. Oregonians should remind their representatives in Congress that having renewable options at the pump is more than just a way to clear the air — it’s a national security priority.
Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent currently serves as chairman of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation, which supports homegrown, renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He represented the state of Missouri in Congress from 1993 to 2007 and served on the Senate Armed Services, Energy and Natural Resources and Agriculture committees.