By Senator Tom Harkin
As many of us are all too aware, America imports and consumes a lot of oil, and that dependence is both costly and a threat to our economy. While over two-thirds of that imported oil is used to fuel our cars and trucks, many folks don’t realize that another 20 percent of that oil is used as raw material to make a variety of products, from paints and solvents to fabrics and plastics, as well as a wide variety of industrial chemicals. But that is starting to change.
Just as Iowa is leading the way to produce biofuels that displace gasoline, enterprising entrepreneurs in our state and across America are beginning to manufacture thousands of materials and products using homegrown agricultural and forestry crops and byproducts known as biobased feedstocks. The benefits of these products are clear: we are saving money and reducing the need for foreign oil; we’re improving and protecting our environment; we're creating new income sources for the farmers who produce these crops; and we're generating American jobs in manufacturing these products. Biobased products hold especially significant economic opportunities for our rural communities, far too many of which are struggling today.
To help promote these biobased products, USDA recently launched the "Biobased" label to let consumers know when a product is made of these materials. Starting in the next month, companies can choose to put this label on their qualifying products so consumers will know what percentage of an item is biobased. This is great news. Iowans like to know the story behind the products we purchase - in a hardware store we might look for a "Made in the U.S.A." imprint on tool, or buy a new appliance that bears the "EnergyStar" seal of approval. And soon, by looking for a “USDA biobased” label, we will be able to easily judge a product that is good for the environment, the U.S. economy and jobs, and doesn't rely on foreign oil.
The new “Biobased” label is part of an initiative I successfully worked to enact into law and is another step in a campaign that began almost 10 years ago. As the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I was proud to establish a biobased product promotion program in 2002. The program directed the federal government to give a preference to biobased products in its extensive purchasing actions - so long as it made financial sense. Already, USDA has designated about 5,100 biobased products for preferred purchasing. And now, consumer demand for products labeled "Biobased" should provide a major boost to develop and market more of these products, starting an expanding cycle of job creation for both biobased feedstock production and product manufacture and sales.
Additionally, to help expand the use of biofuels in place of gasoline, I just introduced legislation aimed at expanding markets for biofuels. The bill would increase the number of vehicles that use a blend of ethanol and gasoline, increase the number of pumps at gas stations dispensing this blend and authorize loan guarantees for the construction of renewable fuel pipelines. I am hopeful the Senate will move forward and pass this bill.
All these efforts are helping to develop and produce products that are made from crops and forests products, instead of expensive overseas oil, and I proud that Iowa is leading the way.