OPEC’s announcement on Friday that it plans to cut oil production by four percent—1.2 million barrels a day—underscores how important it is for the United States to aggressively pursue homegrown alternative energy solutions and energy efficiency. Dependence on foreign oil puts American national security and families’ financial stability at risk. Yet the federal government could combat oil dependence, global warming, and poverty by significantly investing in growing renewable energy solutions on American farms.
The United States currently spends $300,000 a minute on foreign oil, and the volatility of the oil market over the past 30 years has cost the U.S. economy seven trillion dollars. The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions will increase the global temperature two to ten degrees by the end of the century. And in rural America, 20 percent of children live in poverty, and 88 percent of counties suffer from persistent poverty.
The federal government can tackle all three of these issues by implementing a robust biofuels development and deployment plan. Using American farms to grow sustainable energy could increase agricultural sector profits by five billion dollars per year and displace 1.5 million barrels of oil by 2025.
The biofuel industry has already helped create almost 150,000 jobs and has added 14 billion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product. Ethanol-blended gasoline also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 13 percent, and studies indicate that cellulosic ethanol produced from switchgrass and other sources can make significantly greater greenhouse gas reductions.
Investing in rural energy solutions can begin today. To decrease American dependence on foreign oil, begin curbing global warming, and commit to ending rural poverty, the United States must:
- Invest in biofuels. Establish a separate cellulosic biofuels component of the Renewable Fuel Standard of five billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels in the overall fuel supply by 2015 and provide consistent funding for production incentives.
- Encourage farmers with incentives. Establish mandatory financial incentives, direct green payments, and low interest loans to encourage farmers to grow dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass and other forms of biomass.
- Push payments for worthy facilities. Establish direct producer payments and other targeted incentives to farmers engaged in the development of farmer cooperative and locally owned biorefineries and biofuel facilities.
- Increase federal support. Fully fund and expand existing federal commitments to biomass, and create tax incentives for expanding critical biofuel storage, transportation, and distribution infrastructure throughout the nation.
- Establish a carbon cap program. Reward farmers that address global warming by capping the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, and then allow farmers and companies to trade anti-pollution “credits” in the marketplace to reduce emissions.
Current energy policy is clearly not working. Over 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way that the current administration handles energy policy, and 67 percent of Americans across the political spectrum want the federal government to increase funding for biofuel research. It is time for the government to listen to the American people and get serious about enacting change.
For more information, read the Center for American Progress’ policy brief: