Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has called on Congress and the Bush Administration to launch full and thorough investigations into skyrocketing fuel prices which are threatening the state and U.S. economy, as well as jeopardizing national security.
At the same time, Bronson is urging Congress to resist efforts to slow down the production of ethanol and biodiesel, arguing that the production of alternative fuels is the most effective option in assuring that fuel prices moderate and that future energy costs are affordable.
“We’re being taken for a ride, and the evidence is everywhere, from the escalating prices we pay to fill up our vehicles with gasoline to the purchase of virtually all consumer goods”, Bronson said. “It is almost impossible to conceive of a product that is not dependent on oil in either its production or transportation to the stores in which it is sold.”
Towards that end, Bronson, who serves as the state’s primary consumer protection official as head of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said it is imperative that Congress and the White House initiate comprehensive investigations into all aspects of the oil business, including production, trading by investors and speculators, and ultimately the marketing and sale of fuel.
The Commissioner said that both he and his department are being bombarded with calls from consumers irate over skyrocketing fuel prices, the cost of cooling their homes and escalating costs for items ranging from airline tickets to fertilizer. Even food prices have been significantly impacted as higher oil prices increase the costs of processing, packaging and transporting food — steps that account for 80 cents on every dollar spent on food in the United States.
What Congress must resist, he argued, are rumblings in Washington to limit the production of alternative fuels because of criticism that ethanol produced by corn is a significant factor in higher food prices because it removes a portion of the nation's corn production from the human and animal food chain.
In fact, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors estimate that only 3 percent of the total increase in food prices this year is attributable to corn that is being diverted for ethanol production. Analysts say the most significant factors in increasing food costs are higher fuel prices, greater demand in countries such as China and India, and droughts in several major food-producing nations.
Establishing a major alternative fuel industry in Florida is a top priority of Bronson, who is a Steering Committee member of “’25x’25” — a national bipartisan organization committed to seeing the nation’s agriculture industry produce 25 percent of the country’s energy needs by the year 2025.
In January 2006, Bronson unveiled Florida’s “Farm to Fuel” initiative — a program designed to use Florida’s more than 10 million acres of farm and timber land to produce ethanol and bio-diesel as a means of keeping Florida land in open green space and in an effort to reduce the state and nation’s dependency on foreign oil.
What Bronson’s plan envisions is the primary reliance on cellulosic material — wood, grasses and other biomass — to produce alternative fuels.
To date, 14 companies and universities have received $30 million in state energy grants under the “Farm to Fuel” program to construct commercial ethanol or bio-diesel plants or conduct demonstration projects designed to show the feasibility of alternative energy technologies.