Investment in Biofuels Will Pay Off

By producing biofuels as well as consuming them, we also will be helping to grow this sustainable sector of our state and local economy.

Published: 22-Mar-2005

The Register-Guard's March 16 editorial criticizing proposed legislation encouraging biofuel production in Oregon ("Fuel subsidies a bad sign") is the journalistic equivalent of trying to steer a vehicle by only looking through the rearview mirror.

Liberals and conservatives alike love to hate federal ethanol subsidies. By jumping on the critics' bandwagon and using their arguments against a state program, The Register-Guard overlooks the reasons why the time has come for Oregon to get into the biofuel game.

The Register-Guard's main objection to ethanol and other biofuels is based on the assertion that it takes more energy to create biofuels than they produce. The one source cited for this assertion is Jim Bowyer, a part-time professor from the University of Minnesota.

In fact, Bowyer is a supporter of biofuel production, not a critic. However, like most biofuel critics, he accepts the controversial conclusions of David Pimental of Cornell University regarding alleged biofuel inefficiency.

Studies by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced very different results, as have several independent studies.

Pimental has been accused of using out-of-date numbers, of misrepresenting the source of most raw materials used in biofuel production and of offering conclusions inconsistent with virtually every other study that has been conducted. (See http://listserv .repp.org/pipermail/bioenergy/ 2001-December/009575.html.)

The immediate case for biodiesel is even more compelling than for ethanol because of federal mandates requiring the use of ultra-low-sulfur diesel in 2006. Blends of biodiesel that meet those mandates are already increasing the demand for biofuels, and that demand should increase significantly over the coming year. The only question is whether Oregon will be on the producing end as well as the consuming end.

Last September, Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked that an Oregon Solutions work group be convened for what was called the Lane Clean Diesel Project. The work group consisted of ultra-low-sulfur and biodiesel distributors, along with major public and private diesel and biofuel users and other interested parties (including the three authors).

On April 4, the participants will meet to sign commitments regarding the use of ultra-low-sulfur and biodiesel. Similar efforts to move toward ultra-low-sulfur and biodiesel are taking place all over the country.

Subsidies encouraging the transition to biofuels, particularly biodiesel, greatly increase Oregon's opportunity to grab a share of this growing market. The economic case for making investments to encourage the establishment of a growing industry cluster have been recognized at least since the publication of Alfred Marshall's "Principles of Economics" in 1890.

For Oregon, with our abundance of agricultural commodities that can serve as raw materials for biofuel production, it makes sense to make a public investment in staking a claim to the growing biofuel industry cluster.

There is a lot of interest these days in sustainable economic development. This concept has at least two elements: promoting sustainable business practices generally and encouraging businesses that sell goods and services that have environmental advantages. The biofuel industry satisfies both of these objectives.

We know the environmental and health benefits of moving to biofuels. Biodiesel reduces toxic air pollution by 67 percent and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent.

Exhaust from today's highway grade diesel has more than 40 carcinogenic substances, and 92 percent of particles found in diesel exhaust are highly respirable.

Using biodiesel reduces cancer risk, and it reduces the incidence of asthma and emphysema. Consequently, it will help reduce the cost of health care.

By producing biofuels as well as consuming them, we also will be helping to grow this sustainable sector of our state and local economy. Subsidies to encourage such production, together with mandates that promote the creation of a market for the product along with the health benefits that come with its use, are both good economic and environmental policy.

It is not "spending a dime to make a nickel" as The Register-Guard suggests. It is investing a nickel to secure the future.

Sharon Banks is the manager of planning and administration with the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority. Rusty Rexius is president of Rexius Forest By-Products. Jack Roberts is the executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership. All are participants in the Oregon Solutions work group, convened to promote the Lane Clean Diesel Project.

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