Opinion: The answer to our gas crisis


A Guest Column by U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge

As skyrocketing gas prices hobble family budgets across America, rural Americans are being hit particularly hard. We have longer commutes to work, to school, to the grocery store and to the doctor. Many school districts are struggling to pay for fuel for buses, and some farmers are already operating at a loss this year.

However, our farmers and our economy stand to benefit from this fuel crisis if we make a commitment to change the way we get our fuel. North Carolina has the technology and the resources to make our own fuel from the produce we grow in our fields.

Soybeans are the biggest crop in North Carolina; making up about 25 percent of the total acreage of the state. They have hundreds of uses, including soybean diesel, which is competitive with the cost of traditional petroleum-based diesel.

We have the answer to our fuel crisis growing in our fields.

Recently I hosted “Biofuels: North Carolina’s Growing Opportunity,” a summit on biofuels production in North Carolina. Local producers, researchers, government officials and members of the business community gathered to discuss the steps North Carolina is currently taking to become a leader in biofuels, and the steps that remain to reach our destination.

Biofuels provide the opportunity not only for a stable source of affordable fuel, but also for jobs for North Carolinians. Every dollar we invest in biofuels production in North Carolina is a dollar that benefits our economy.

Fuels like soybean diesel and ethanol are renewable and proven to be better for the environment. We don’t need to drill off our beautiful coast lines when the fuels we can develop from crops are right here already.

With the cost of fuel rising, some Americans are turning biofuels into a reality. In the Midwest, corn belt ethanol production is rising. Most gas stations in Minnesota offer gas with a 10 percent ethanol blend. Auto makers are offering “flex-fuel” vehicles with the capacity to burn both traditional gasoline and ethanol without any decline in vehicle performance.

We are poised to transform our economy and society but we need national leadership to help make that vision a reality.

Change is never easy. But we have to make these changes or our families, our economy and our national security will continue to be affected by volatile oil markets. It simply does not make sense to depend on foreign countries for our energy needs, when we can control our own energy supply through renewable fuels.

In his State of the Union speech President Bush called for “an energy independent America.” His plan calls for replacing 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by the year 2025. Unfortunately, his budget does not match his ambitious rhetoric. His budget proposes investing only about half a dollar per American in biofuels research and development.

We can do better and we must become more energy independent. Congress needs to provide tax incentives to encourage increased biofuels production, and we must increase research and development funding for biofuels, new refining
processes for these fuels, and new vehicle technologies so that they can be deployed in the coming years.

North Carolina has a long and cherished history as a leader in innovation. The Wright Brothers made our state “First in Flight.” Research Triangle Park is one of the most dynamic places in the world. Biofuels hold the potential for North Carolina to lead the nation once again.

We have the answer to our fuel crisis in our fields. We need leadership to make that vision a reality.