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Renewable fuels — important to North Dakota's future

The United States, more specifically North Dakota, is blessed with an abundant supply of natural resources. Sun, water, wind, minerals, hydrocarbons, and fertile land that can produce more food, feed, fiber, and fuel than can be used domestically. Choices are unlimited in how we use these great resources.

As North Dakotans, we must support agriculture, a main driver of the state's economy, by proactively expanding the availability of renewable fuels.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, commonly referred to as the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), set a course to change U.S. liquid fuel options. Its five primary objectives:

• Reduce our dependence on foreign oil

• Grow our economy

• Improve domestic air quality

• Lower the cost of fuel for consumers

• Provide consumers renewable fuel choices at the pump

It has been one of the most successful energy bills ever passed; it was done with broad bipartisan support; and to date, it has successfully achieved four of its five primary goals. Further, it has proven to be the most significant agriculture market development in the past 50 years.

North Dakota has five ethanol plants, each located in a community with a population less than 2,500. These plants process 40-60 percent of North Dakota's corn crop each year with the capacity to produce 520 million gallons of ethanol, 1.5 million tons of high-protein livestock feed and 135 million pounds corn oil that goes into biodiesel production.

Nationwide, the ethanol industry processes 5.5 billion bushels of corn to produce more than 16 billion gallons of ethanol and 40 million metric tons of livestock feed. Additionally, the United States processes more than two billion bushels of soybeans into high-protein feed and biodiesel each year.

Without the RFS, these fuel markets would be limited, restricted and difficult to enter given the barriers in place today.

While the RFS has been successful on four of five goals, work is still needed to achieve the last goal of providing consumers renewable fuel choices at the pump. The agriculture and renewable fuels industries have worked together to increase consumer access to renewable fuels. But it is critical for the long-term success of U.S. agriculture to proactively ensure this continues to happen.

Our industry supports free markets and would like to enjoy the same market access as traditional fuels; but unfortunately, there are many impediments to gaining market access. Current barriers include the Environmental Protection Agency fuel-use restrictions, complex infrastructure certifications, complex and incumbent-favored fuel certification processes, regulatory restrictions favoring conventional fuels, and state and federal labeling and use restrictions.

Consumers now have access to E15 (Unleaded 88) year-round, and we are working to get it available at retailers statewide. I encourage North Dakota citizens to choose renewable fuels, such as E10, E15, E30 and E85, and to ask for those fuels if a station does not offer them. These are high-octane, clean- burning, cost-effective fuels that should be an option for all consumers throughout the nation.

Do not settle for status quo but be proactive in making sure consumers have access to the renewable fuel products our state's agriculture producers create.

Jeff Zueger, Underwood, N.D., is the North Dakota Ethanol Council Chairman and Midwest AgEnergy Group CEO.