July 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

Don't let big oil rig the renewable fuel debate

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which passed with strong bipartisan support in 2005, is a forward-looking policy that drives down the price of gasoline at the pump, creates jobs, provides investment in rural areas and reduces pollution in our air and water.

Unfortunately, oil companies are intent on repealing this policy Ė spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rig the system and protect their massive profits.

The RFS calls for increased use of biofuels, including ethanol and biodiesel, as part of our fuel supply. This cuts into Big Oilís monopoly on our gas and creates more choices for consumers at the pump. Thatís good news for Michigan consumers. According to economists at Iowa State University, consumers save an average of more than a dollar on every gallon of gas because of the RFS.

Investing in biofuels makes sense for Michigan, a state where agriculture is a major driver of our economy. Biofuels are a Michigan industry at every step of the process. The fuels are produced at plants right here in Michigan from crops grown by local farmers. Even advanced flex-fuel pumps are manufactured by a company in Spring Lake. And all of these companies employ Michigan workers.

Ultimately, the money generated by biofuels stays here in Michigan where it supports our farmers, sparks new businesses, puts folks back to work and revitalizes our rural economy Ė to the tune of 22,794 jobs, $1.1 billion in wages, and $4.2 billion in economic output every year, right here in Michigan.

When we use more American-made fuels, we also boost Americaís national security. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars importing foreign oil, and much of that money goes to countries and regions that are hostile to the United States. Thatís how American dollars end up supporting the Russian military, and why the current violence in Iraq is raising our prices at the pump.

The RFS helps break that dangerous addiction to foreign oil. Since 2010, growth in the renewable fuels industry has helped reduce oil imports from the Persian Gulf region by 25 percent. Overall, the RFS reduced our foreign oil imports by $44 billion last year.

Those savings are why Big Oil companies are spending millions of dollars to try to gut the RFS, and keep Americans hooked on fossil fuels. Oil companies are using their near-endless bankrolls to rig the system to protect their massive profits at the expense of consumers in Michigan and across the U.S.

Think about this:

■ Oil companies have spent more than $885 million on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past five years to push their agenda.

■ The oil industry has a near-total monopoly on the marketplace ó so when oil prices go up, consumers feel the pain at the pump. Cutting the RFS would increase Big Oil profits, cost consumers more at the pump, and increase our dependence on foreign oil.

■ Oil companies continue to receive billions of dollars in tax breaks, which build their profits on the backs of hard-working American families.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave in to oil industry pressure when it issued a proposed rule that would severely weaken the RFS, and the White House must reject that proposal and maintain a strong RFS instead. A strong RFS means more jobs and better gas prices for Michigan. But we wonít get there if Big Oil can rig the system and continue to create uncertainty about Americaís commitment to renewable fuels.

One thing is certain Ė continuing attacks on the RFS would have serious negative consequences for Michigan families.

Itís time for our leaders in Washington to do whatís right for Michigan consumers, workers and communities. They should stand up to Big Oil and protect the RFS.

Mark Fisk is state grassroots coordinator at Renewable Michigan.