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Renewable Fuel Standard vital to Montana biofuels industry

Montana is a powerhouse. For generations, our natural resources have powered this nation's homes, cities and economy. And we stand to keep powering America for generations to come as one of the top producers of biofuels and bio-energy.

Through hard work and innovation, Montana can remain one of the nation's top energy producers, preserve our state's natural resources and create new markets and jobs. On top of all that, our growing biofuels industry stands to one day make our nation and military independent from foreign oil.

But this success requires support in Congress, and the economic predictability provided by the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets annual targets for the use of renewable fuel in our transportation fuel mix.

First adopted in 2005, and expanded in 2007, the RFS provides stability and drives investment in the biofuels sector.

Currently, the RFS supports 400,000 American jobs. In 2011 alone, the RFS helped Americans save $50 billion in imported fuel costs. It has also helped reduce U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf by 25 percent since the year 2000. The U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture estimate that there is enough bio-energy to replace a third of America's gasoline needs by 2030.

Citing threats that have been made as a result of our nation's dependence on foreign oil, the Department of Defense has set ambitious goals for energy independence and is taking steps to use advanced biofuels. In 2010, the U.S. Navy "Green Hornet" jet made a successful test flight powered by Montana camelina-derived jet fuel. And this is just the beginning. The Navy plans to meet 50 percent of its energy requirements with alternative energy sources by 2020.

Montana farmers harvest about 9.5 million pounds of camelina each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the U.S. Air Force and Navy are investing a combined total of $16 million in Montana for 140,000 gallons of camelina-based biofuels for aviation testing and certification.

Interest in biofuels in flight goes beyond the military. In 2011, many in the aviation industry– including Boeing, Alaska Airlines, and the Seattle and Portland airports – celebrated the release of a study demonstrating the potential of camelina-derived biofuels to power commercial airliners.

Also in our state, locally-produced biodiesel is being used to power personal vehicles and transit buses in the Havre area and has been used to successfully power a BNSF locomotive.

Much of this interesting work is being pioneered by Montana camelina growers, biofuel producers and researchers at Montana State University. Last January, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a $647,748 grant to Montana State University-Northern to expand its biodiesel program and the North Center Montana Renewable Industry Initiative. This project is created to commercialize new technology, create new high-skill, living-wage jobs and is expected to generate $90 million in private investment in our state.

In this sluggish economy, Montana biofuels are charging ahead. There are two proposed ethanol plants, a strong potential for community-based oilseed and biofuel production, and new market opportunities for sustainable aviation fuel.

We live in an exciting and pivotal time in our state's energy-producing history. We have so much potential to move forward and lead.

However, this potential is being threatened by some in Congress who have proposed to pause or rollback the RFS.

We must keep the RFS in place. It is vital to Montana's rural farms and communities, our state's economy and our nation's national security.

(Barbara Stiffarm is executive director of Opportunity Link Inc. in Havre, which promotes the use of locally produced biofuels for transportation.

Duane Johnson is president of ClearSkies Inc., Agricultural Consulting in Bigfork, and is a biofuels researcher and producer.

Steve Corrick is communications coordinator for Algae Aqua-Culture Technology, which operates a bio-energy power plant in Columbia Falls.)


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