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Former Army Captain: Ethanol Industry a ‘Natural Fit’ for Veterans

November 9, 2017


This Veterans Day, millions of Americans will pay their respects to those who have served our country in uniform and defended our freedom. What most Americans may not know, however, is that thousands of veterans have continued to make our nation stronger and more secure by choosing careers in the ethanol industry after leaving military service.


In fact, nearly one in five workers in the U.S. ethanol industry is a veteran of the U.S. armed services, according to a Department of Energy report issued earlier this year. The DOE report, which examined workforce demographics of various U.S. energy industries, found that a whopping 18.9 percent of ethanol industry workers are military veterans. By comparison, vets account for 10 percent of the oil and gas industry workforce, and just 7 percent of the entire U.S. labor force across all sectors of the economy.


While the ethanol workforce's unusually high rate of military veterans might come as a surprise to many, it doesn't surprise the veterans working in the industry.


"I completely understand why so many former servicemen and women are drawn to employment in the biofuels industry. It's a natural fit for us," wrote former U.S. Army Captain Tony Leiding in an op-ed published today in The Hill. Leiding, who piloted UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, is the current director of operations at Trenton Agri Products LLC, a 40-million-gallon per year ethanol plant in southwest Nebraska. "Producing homegrown renewable fuel from crops grown on American family farms allows us to continue honoring a commitment to make our nation stronger and more independent," he wrote. "Veterans working in the ethanol industry take great pride in knowing we are improving our nation's energy security, economic vitality and environmental quality each and every day."


Over the past 20 years, rapid growth in ethanol production and use has reduced demand for petroleum imports and boosted domestic energy supplies. The ethanol industry has added nearly 3.6 billion barrels of low-cost, high-octane liquid fuel to domestic supplies since Congress adopted the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2005 and ethanol now accounts for more than 10 percent of our nation's gasoline supply. Meanwhile, net imports of crude oil and petroleum products have fallen by 60 percent since 2005.


A recent study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics underscored the energy security benefits of the RFS, finding that the program saved the average American household $142 on gasoline purchases in 2015 and reduced crude oil imports by 200 million barrels. However, true energy independence remains elusive and the United States continues to import large volumes of crude oil, with 40% coming from the OPEC cartel.


That's why scores of military veterans working in the ethanol industry sent a letter to President Trump earlier this year, asking him to ensure ethanol and the RFS continue to play a prominent role in our nation's energy policy. And with EPA set to publish its final rule for 2018 RFS volume obligations later this month, Leiding's op-ed took the opportunity to encourage President Trump to continue his strong support for the ethanol industry.


"On this Veterans Day, I join former servicemen and women from across the country in respectfully encouraging President Trump to remain resolute in his support for the RFS and the U.S. ethanol industry," wrote Leiding, an Iowa State University graduate. "We look forward to EPA publishing a final rule for 2018 RFS volumes that provides a pathway for further growth, and continues to support the thousands of veterans like me working in the industry."