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Renewable energy helps economy as well as Earth

Editor’s note: This opinion piece appeared in the June 29 edition of the Newport Daily News. Last week, the R.I. General Assembly approved the Biodiesel Heating Oil Act of 2013, which requires that all No. 2 heating oil sold in the state contain a specified percentage of a bio-based product.

During the past couple of weeks, the Newport Daily News editorial page has published several letters addressing energy issues. This is a very important topic, and we at Newport Biodiesel were excited to see an op-ed June 10 from Joe Jobe, the CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, discussing the success of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

This program has not only been successful on a national level, helping to diversify the energy portfolio of our country, but it has also been an important factor in helping our small business in Newport grow production over the past five years — from 300,000 to nearly 2 million gallons of biodiesel.

The success of the RFS has been a huge win for Rhode Island, as every gallon of biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 89 percent relative to petroleum diesel, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During that time, our company also has grown from the original five founders to 15 employees, and we have recycled millions of dollars back into the local economy through the purchase of waste vegetable oil from local restaurants.

However, the responses to the op-ed have mostly focused on the false premise that the only way to meet our energy needs, grow our economy and create jobs is to continue to drill for oil and gas, mine coal and completely eliminate any “costly” development of renewable energy. Neither the letter written by Joseph Matais (June 14) nor the op-ed by Robert Bradley Jr. of the Institute for Energy Research (June 17) even mentions carbon or the physical and social costs of burning all that fossil fuel.

If America were to “tap our vast energy resources” as proposed by Mr. Bradley, not only would the Earth’s temperature continue to rise, but Rhode Island would also have a higher sea level in Narragansett Bay flooding our shorelines and air quality at the level of Beijing. Is that what we want to leave as our legacy for future generations?

The most frustrating part of these discussions is the claim that we shouldn’t spend any money or effort on developing renewable energy. No matter what we do, fossil fuels are going to be a part of our lives for a long time, and no renewable energy is the “silver bullet” that can take the place of all fossil fuels. So for now, an “all-of-the-above” strategy should be our objective.

At Newport Biodiesel, we are working with fuel distributors and the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island to promote the use of a 20 percent blend of biodiesel and ultra low-sulfur diesel. Such a fuel has lower emissions than natural gas — without the fracking — and is readily available today while costing the same as existing fuels. What we need are programs that will help to make fuels like this available to everyone.

We are lucky to live in a state that is on the forefront of renewable energy development. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is the leader in the U.S. Senate addressing the impacts of climate change, and Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, through the state Office of Energy Resources, is developing a state energy plan for the next 25 years that emphasizes efficiency and renewable energy as the cornerstones of sustainable development for the future.

Let’s not be constrained by those who will not adapt to change; let’s work to create an environment where innovation can prosper and we can create a cleaner and cooler world for future generations.

Robert W. Morton is chairman of the board of Newport Biodiesel Inc.

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