Standing beside a Propel Biodiesel pump on Westlake today, Sen. Patty Murray appealed to what's become a standard argument for supporting the alternative fuel industry: patriotism. Murray argued that by importing oil to fuel our cars (gasoline and standard diesel are both made from petroleum) we give money to foreign governments that in some cases would do us harm. The problem is, even green fuel sellers like Propel still sell oil, and lots of it. If you filled up at the Propel station where Murray stood, 80 percent of what went into your tank would be standard diesel made from crude oil.
The tax credit is needed to make biodiesel cost-competitive with standard diesel, says the National Biodiesel Board. Since the credit expired, biodiesel now costs about 45 cents more per gallon at the pump than standard diesel.
Murray says that 60 percent of the petroleum used in this country is imported. And then there's the BP spill. Hence her support for the biodiesel industry.
Even if more people filled up here, we'd still need a lot of oil.
But even if the credit is renewed and more people start filling up at pumps owned by the likes of Propel, it will only have a small impact on our oil dependence. The majority of Propel's pumps sell either B5 or B20 biodiesel. That means that the fuel is made of only 5 percent or 20 percent biofuel and the rest comes from crude oil.
Company spokesperson John Williams says that's mostly the fault of car manufacturers. "If something goes wrong and you've been using [biodiesel that is less than 80 percent petroleum] the vehicle manufacturer could say, 'sorry you're warranty is voided'," Williams says.
Combine the high percentage of biodiesel that is still petroleum and how few cars on the road are diesel (about 2.5 percent, according to Newsweek) and this tax credit doesn't really look like the key to ending our oil addiction. That will probably require spending less time in gas-guzzling SUVs.