Region can play part in Bush's energy plans

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

While Iraq was the 800-pound gorilla in the House chamber, President Bush's comments about energy struck a note in the heartland during Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

If America is successful in reducing gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years, Southwest Nebraska and the rest of the Midwest will play a big part, through the manufacture of ethanol.

"Over the next two years, our state will see our ethanol production capacity double to more than 1.2 billion gallons a year," said Gov. Dave Heineman. "And with the number of potential plants on the horizon, we hope to maintain and enhance our position as a major source for the ethanol produced in this country."

And, U.S. Rep. Lee Terry is right when he says "I know we can do better than increasing ethanol use by 20 percent in 10 years, but it's a start."

But we should also take note of President Bush's mention of other alternative sources of ethanol -- cellulosic ethanol produced from things like wood chips, switchgrass and corn husks. And, biodiesel, produced from soybeans, has great potential for improving fuel economy, especially as part of upcoming diesel-electric hybrid vehicles.

Our overabundance of corn is beginning to be tapped by the ethanol market, pushing up prices and cutting profit margins for feeders, the ethanol plants themselves and may eventually push up the price of food.

And, the long-term ability of local Republican Valley farmers to produce enough corn to supply ethanol plants has to be thrown into doubt by ongoing questions about the supply of water available to meet our obligations to Kansas.

Yes, we need to continue current development of ethanol plants, but we need to think ahead to the next generation of biofuels and how we can play a part.

While oil is an underlying issue behind the war in Iraq and other Mideast conflicts, a group of eco-political activists is doing something about it, opening what they call "terror free" gas stations, including a new one in Omaha.

The Coral Springs, Fla., based Terror-Free Oil Initiative is promising to sell only gasoline from oil companies that don't do business in the Middle East.

They have a good point. Millions of dollars that have poured into Middle Eastern coffers can be traced, ultimately, back to the money we spend at the pump.

The United States imported an average of 2.3 million barrels of oil a day from the Persian Gulf region in 2005, according to the Bush administration. That's 9 percent of U.S. oil consumption.

But it's a little naive to think it's that easy to keep Middle Eastern oil segregated from oil from other sources once it reaches America. Much of the oil used at refineries comes from a common supply purchased on the open market.

And, it will be hard to persuade many of us with a tight budget to spend more for fuel just to make a political statement.

But the Terror-Free Oil Initiative does make an important point: By wasting fuel, we're not only wasting money and needlessly polluting the environment, we're financing those who want to kill us.

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