Even for those who use public transportation or the relative few who use electric vehicles, gasoline affects everything we do from the price of food to the cost of goods that we purchase for our homes or businesses.
Thats why its so important for Floridians to care about the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that requires 10 percent of transportation fuel to include renewable fuels, mostly ethanol which is made predominantly from corn. This standard is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine how much ethanol is required to be incorporated into fuel.
In 2007, when the standard was adopted, biofuels were supposed to lower greenhouse gases and become a major win for the environment. Instead, as an Associated Press investigation found last year, they have resulted in the loss of millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted waterways from the boon of corn production.
There has also been an economic impact. While the corn industry has benefited extensively from this mandate, the heightened pressure on corn production to produce fuel has increased the cost of most everything else we rely upon. Corn is in a large majority of the food we consume, and much of the livestock we raise for food and dairy eats corn-based feed. So, as the demand for corn to be used for ethanol increases, so does the cost at the supermarket and our favorite restaurants.
Florida is particularly susceptible to corn price increases, as Sunshine State dairies produced 2.3 billion pounds of milk in 2012 and ranches are raising 1.7 million head of dairy and beef cattle, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Increased fuel prices, too, are shifted to the public. The more fuel costs based on supply and demand, the more it costs to deliver goods to businesses and consumers. As you can see, corn plays a major role in Floridas economy.
As EPA ponders whether to keep the same, increase or decrease the amount of ethanol that should be produced for transportation gasoline, the agency should consider the economic impact on Americans and the relative low environmental benefit. More fuel-efficient vehicles, new technology and increased natural gas production are helping the environment while producing the energy we need to survive.
Its time to back off this outdated policy that is bad for consumers, bad for small businesses and hinders our countrys growth. What we need is continued smart vehicle technology and continued expansion of energy sources that rein in our dependence on foreign oil.
Nicol Gutierrez of Coral Gables is chair of the Florida Energy Forum, a citizens group interested in energy issues (www.flaenergyforum.com).