Although it doesn’t feel like it now, spring and summer are fast approaching in Massachusetts. If gasoline prices stay low, millions of Bay Staters will have the ability to inexpensively travel across New England to visit our wonderful beaches, mountains and parks. However, the one downside of cheap fuel at the pump is that it lulls people into forgetting our over-reliance on oil creates a serious national security concern for America and our allies.
In the United States, we use oil to power about 90 percent of our motor vehicles. Since oil is a commodity traded on the world market, the high demand across our nation means we have a hand in driving up oil prices that enrich countries and despots around the world that don’t always have our best interests at heart.
One obvious example is Saudi Arabia, a country in which elements exist that fund radical Islamic schools and which preach hatred of America and Israel throughout the world. We must not forget that nearly all of the 9/11 hijackers — and Osama bin Laden himself — were of Saudi descent and products of these elements.
Like any addiction, our over-reliance on oil can be broken. One way to do it is through investment in the production of renewable fuels. Luckily, the United States is already home to the best renewable fuel development policy in the world, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard. The law requires the United States blend increasing amounts of renewable fuel into America’s transportation fuel supply every year. It also gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to adjust the standard annually to ensure it aligns with the amount of renewable fuel available.
Incredibly, virtually every gallon of gasoline sold in this country now contains 10 percent renewable fuel. An increasing percentage of U.S. diesel fuel is now comprised of biodiesel. These petroleum alternatives are produced by hundreds of American biorefineries that did not exist just 10 years ago.
Unfortunately, the news is not all good. Despite the fact that today, nearly every renewable fuel source has the capability to produce more product going forward, the EPA has not established blending requirements since 2013. This delay has wreaked havoc in the biofuels industry and caused investment dollars in advanced biofuels to be put on hold or sent overseas. This has caused plants and laboratories producing renewable fuels to close, including some in Massachusetts.
It has also been reported that the Obama administration and the EPA are still considering including a waiver in the RFS that would allow the oil companies — who distribute biofuels at gas stations around the nation — to refuse to do so. If included in the RFS, this would be a death blow to the growth of the industry in this country and an acknowledgment that our political leaders are wavering on biofuels, just as some of the most promising advanced fuels from sources like switch grass and algae are coming online.
Our military, one of the world’s largest consumers of fuel, clearly understands our dependence on fossil fuels is a serious national security issue. Whether it’s transporting oil across the deserts or oceans, our reliance on these fuels creates risks for our men and women in uniform. Additionally, every time the cost of a barrel of oil goes up, our military needs to devote millions of more dollars to fuel costs, as opposed to spending on equipment that puts our war fighters in better position to accomplish the mission and come home safe and sound. It is no surprise the Pentagon has been incredibly proactive is one of the biggest supporters and investors in advanced biofuels.
Clearly, Congress created the RFS as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act to bolster our national security. Just because gas prices are temporarily low, we cannot forget American investment in renewable fuels remains our best hedge against oil and foreign dependence. We have the best policy and innovators in the world to get the job done. We need the EPA to quickly release a robust RFS, which does not include a distribution waiver for the oil companies, ensuring the United States is not entirely reliant on petroleum for our transportation fuel supply.
Massachusetts state Rep. Hank Naughton currently serves as House chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. He is a major in the United States Army Reserve and is a member of the Department of State, International Security Advisory Board. The opinions expressed are his and do not represent official positions of the Departments of Defense or State.