Fueling the Future


His visit to the facility wasn’t about presidential hygiene, of course. Instead, Bush was touting an alternative form of energy as summer driving season shifts into full gear.

“Americans are concerned about high prices at the pump, and they’re really concerned as they start making their travel plans,” he said.

Although the cost of gas has dipped slightly in recent weeks, it still remains quite high: Only in the upper Midwest does gas go for less than two bucks a gallon, according to AAA.

“Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American dream, and that tax is growing every year,” said Bush.

In this speech and in previous ones, the president also has spoken about the need for the United States to build more petroleum refineries, something our country hasn’t done for about three decades. He specifically suggested constructing them on closed military bases.

That’s a fine idea, too. Now it’s time to connect the dots: We shouldn’t build just ordinary refineries on these closed bases, we should build biodiesel refineries on them as well.

This concept makes sense on multiple levels. Base closings are one of the most explosive issues in Congress right now. The Pentagon has proposed closing or consolidating some 800 military facilities around the country, including 33 major bases. Overall, the plans make sense because they’ll save taxpayers an estimated $48 billion over the next 20 years.

But they’ve also sparked fiery reactions from politicians who represent states and districts that stand to lose jobs. Much of the downsizing will take place in rural communities where economic opportunities are already scarce.

The reason why rural America faces so many challenges goes back to the iron rule of real estate: It’s all about location, location, location. Yet many patches of rural American are in an ideal location for biodiesel refineries, because they’re close to the crops whose growth makes biodiesel possible.

Combined with the favorable loan packages that are available for businesses choosing to put out their shingles on shut-down bases, we have here the makings of a rural-development strategy that’s grounded in market principles, environmental concerns, and political reasonableness.

It’s also grounded in national security. The United States probably won’t ever stop needing to import oil, at least in our lifetimes. We have less than 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, yet we consume something like a quarter of the world’s oil. There are ways we might lessen our dependence on foreign sources, but not all of them make sense and one popular buzzword–“conservation”–is no substitute for a comprehensive energy policy that seeks to meet America’s true needs.

Biofuels present an attractive option because it’s made within our borders. And it’s not your father’s ethanol, either.

For a long time, ethanol suffered from the reputation that it was a pork program for corn farmers. In recent years, however, ethanol production has become much more efficient. Scientists used to say it suffered from “negative energy balance.” That is, the energy required to make ethanol–from growing the corn to transporting it to distilling it–consumed more energy than it yielded.

But now this negative balance has turned positive. The Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois says that ethanol currently emits 67 percent more energy than it uses in production. This particular claim is not without its skeptics, but even the skeptics know they must admit that the ethanol of today is a much better product than it was just a few years ago. In some parts of corn country, it’s actually cheaper to fill a gas tank with ethanol than with conventional gas.

Things will only improve in the future, especially if our policymakers are smart and make sure that many of these improvements continue to take place–on closed military bases in rural America.

Now that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Bill Horan, a Board Member for Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) grows corn, soybeans and grains on a family farm in Northwest Iowa. Over 50% of the crops grown on his farm are produced under contract for various end-users.

Bill Horan

Bill Horan

Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.

Leave a Reply