When Congress picked corn as the winner in 2007, it did not account for the advances in technology that would occur, enabling the cost-effective production of ethanol on a mass scale from new sources. For example, new methods for making fuel-grade ethanol from hydrocarbons like natural gas, an abundant U.S. resource — and other sources — are now available. The current RFS does not include hydrocarbons on its list of approved ethanol sources, stifling competition and giving the advantage to a small sliver of industries. It should be amended to make room for new ethanol sources in the marketplace. Excluding them from the RFS program inhibits the growth of our domestic energy economy at a time when other countries, like China and Indonesia, are moving ahead rapidly in the alternative fuels race.
Congress should push for change by passing a bipartisan bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, the Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2012, which would modify the RFS to allow for a broader range of domestic alternative fuel sources. Its passage would mean that ethanol produced from readily available and inexpensive hydrocarbons — except for petroleum — could compete in the U.S. transportation fuels market. It would also open the door for more, desperately needed innovation.
The Obama administration has taken an “all-of-the-above” approach to America’s energy needs, incorporating both conventional and alternative sources. It must work with Congress to develop the same approach to ethanol production.
New ethanol technology could bring much-needed relief to high food prices, inject fresh growth and innovation into the alternative fuels industry, create new jobs and further reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Both Congress and the Obama administration should embrace this opportunity and not let a narrow group of special interests dictate such an important part of our energy policy. Let’s use all the technologies that are available to us, and put smart innovations to work for the American economy.
Mark Rohr is chairman and CEO of the Celanese Corp., a member of the Domestic Fuels Solutions Group.