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As a Marine Corps veteran, it is no surprise to me that so many former servicemembers end up working in America’s ethanol industry. It’s a good fit for us. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the employees at East Kansas Agri-Energy, where I serve as president and CEO, are veterans of our armed forces.

After serving our country in uniform, we have chosen to work in the renewable fuels industry because it allows us to continue honoring a commitment to make America stronger and more independent. We take great pride in knowing we work in an industry that improves our nation’s energy security, economic vitality and environmental quality each and every day.

That’s why I, along with scores of other veterans who work and invest in the ethanol industry, recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump that urged him to include a prominent role for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in his “America First Energy Plan.”

Released on inauguration day, the president’s plan highlights the importance of reducing reliance on imported crude oil, especially from the OPEC cartel. It calls for strengthening domestic energy security by eliminating the regulatory barriers that constrain U.S. energy production.

While Trump’s plan specifically identifies crude oil, natural gas and coal as domestic energy sources that require deregulation and political support, it neglects to mention the important role of ethanol and RFS in securing our energy future.

Together with the American oil and gas industry, we have made great strides in reducing imports and boosting domestic energy supplies. The ethanol industry alone has added nearly 3.3 billion barrels of low-cost, high-octane liquid fuel to domestic supplies since the RFS was adopted in 2005 — that’s more than 1,000 gallons per U.S. household. As a result, net imports of crude oil and petroleum products peaked at 12.5 million barrels per day in 2005 and have since fallen to about 5 million barrels per day last year.

However, true energy independence remains elusive and the U.S. still imports significant volumes of oil from OPEC and nations hostile to our interests. In 2016, 40 percent of U.S. oil imports came from OPEC and the U.S. economy sent roughly $140 million per day to the cartel, equivalent to an annual bill of nearly $500 for every American family. Saudi Arabia was the second-leading supplier of U.S. oil imports, and shipments from Iraq nearly doubled. As a veteran, I would prefer to spend our energy dollars in the Midwest, not the Mideast.

Our letter thanks Trump for his stated commitment to renewable fuels, and encourages him to ensure ethanol and the RFS continue to play a key role in our nation’s energy policy moving forward.

Supporting a strong RFS and eliminating regulatory barriers that restrain greater ethanol use are among the strategies that will help free our economy from the influence of OPEC oil ministers once and for all.

Jeff Oestmann is president and CEO of East Kansas Agri-Energy, an advanced bio-refinery in Garnett, Kan.

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