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Bush will devote energy to ethanol

He will help lead a group touting a shift from oil to the biofuel .

Published December 19, 2006


MIAMI - In his first official postgubernatorial commitment, Gov. Jeb Bush signed on Monday as co-chairman of the new Interamerican Ethanol Commission, confirming his recent conversion to renewable energy advocacy.

The commission stems from Bush's quest in the last two years to shift Florida away from its dependence on foreign oil, while at the same time creating a cleaner, more sustainable fuel economy.

Monday's launch was the culmination of a series of contacts this year between Bush and Brazilian agriculture officials over the potential for hemispheric free trade in cleaner-burning biofuels, which can be blended with gasoline.

Speaking to a packed audience of alternative-energy and agriculture industry leaders, most from Florida and Brazil, Bush laid out what he calls a "win-win" strategy for diversifying Florida's fuel consumption away from fossil fuels to energy crops.

Not only is ethanol a viable means of reducing dependence on foreign fuel, it could also be a vehicle for creating jobs and economic growth, as well as preserving the environment. "It's the one way we can protect paradise," he said, noting that Florida's tourism industry depends on a "clean economy."

Bush became intensely aware of the risks of foreign oil dependence to the Florida economy during the 2005 hurricane season, when storms shut down Florida's main ports as well as Gulf of Mexico refineries, disrupting oil supply and forcing a spike in gas prices.

Rather than buy oil from hostile nations such as Venezuela, which supplies about 12 percent of daily U.S. petroleum needs, Bush said U.S. dollars would be better spent on buying biofuels from friendly countries such as Brazil, Colombia and smaller countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

For now, the biggest challenge is to "change the thinking in this country," Bush said. That would also be the main task of the new commission, which plans to be a regional advocate for renewable fuels and help countries develop their own strategies as part of an effort to build a global market for ethanol.

The commission plans to begin by funding regional research before undertaking a country-by-country road show to sell its ideas.

Bush's two co-chairs on the commission are formidable allies: the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Moreno, and former Brazilian Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues.

Moreno said ethanol has enormous potential as a catalyst for rural economic development in low-income regions, such as Central America. The commission is the fulfillment of a three-decades-old dream for Rodrigues, one of the pioneers of Brazil's ethanol strategy.

"What we are doing here is launching a new civilization," he said. "We are doing something for our grandchildren and great grandchildren."


Interamerican Ethanol Commission

Co-chairs: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Roberto Rodrigues, president of the Superior Council of Agribusiness of Brazil and former Brazilian agriculture minister; Luis Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Annual budget: Not yet known.

Industry funding: Private sector; none secured yet. Organizers plan to knock on doors of Brazilian sugar cane growers, international commodity traders and ethanol plant manufacturers.

Goal: To promote the blending of ethanol with gasoline throughout the Western Hemisphere. It sets a goal of U.S. consumption of 15-billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2015.


[Last modified December 19, 2006, 00:39:05]

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