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19 June 2010 - Let's Stop Talking; Start Acting

Nearly all of the media coverage I saw dealing with President Obama's Oval Office address on the Gulf oil disaster focused on the disaster itself and the need to clean it up. But the President did make another very important point that I hope we will not ignore. In his remarks, the President said "The United States must do more, spend more time and money on research, to develop alternative sources of renewable energy."

We in agriculture have been doing that for decades, producing renewable energy every year on farm fields across the United States. While the Gulf oil disaster is truly a disaster, it gives us the opportunity again to convince the American people, especially the critics of ethanol, bio-diesel, solar and wind energy, that we need to accept the President's challenge. It's time to put aside our NIMBY (not in my backyard) feelings and respond to the critics of renewable energy; critics like the Environmental Working Group, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the other nay-sayers who constantly use emotion, rather than science, to stop the growth of alternative energy, and in effect, promote the use of fossil fuel.

Let's discuss one of the major criticisms, government subsidies paid to ethanol and bio-diesel producers to encourage production. The International Energy Agency recently reported that in 2008 world governments spent $550-billion in subsidies for fossil fuel. In the same year, the U.S. spent $4.5-billion to increase America's use of domestically produced ethanol. In 2009 U.S. ethanol production helped nearly 400,000 people keep their jobs or find new ones and added more than $15-billion to federal, state and local government tax revenues. Put that up against the environmental and financial cost of the Gulf oil spill.

While ethanol will never replace fossil fuel, last year's production did displace more than 360-million barrels of imported oil, no small number. We have proven we can produce enough corn for livestock feed and human food and still have enough to produce ethanol. We continue to invest in research and over the past several years have dramatically increased the efficiency of ethanol production, reducing energy use by 28% and the use of water by 32%.

We ignored the energy warning in 1979 with the Arab oil embargo and the long lines at gas stations, we ignored the warning when gasoline prices hit $4 to $5 dollars a gallon; I hope we will not ignore President Obama's challenge to really work together to develop more sources of renewable alternative energy. It's time to quit talking; time to start doing.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.