It was a rainy, dark and gloomy day in Mississippi on Thursday, October 26, but weather aside, it was a bright and promising day for our state and nation. I was pleased to join Senator Thad Cochran, Representatives Chip Pickering and Bennie Thompson, and local and state leaders to kick off construction of Mississippi’s first ethanol plant. Soon it will be turning bushels of corn into gallons of fuel for our cars and trucks.
Located at the Port of Vicksburg, this facility will be jointly operated by Mississippi’s Ergon energy company and by grain distributor Bunge. It will be a self-sufficient operation without any government subsidy.
This is a milestone for our state, our region and even our nation as America strives to find more renewable energy and become less dependent on foreign oil. Becoming less dependent on unstable foreign countries for energy is not an option, but something we must do. If we fail to find more domestic energy resources, we’ll be importing almost 80 percent of our energy from foreign sources by 2025. That’s scary, and it could prove devastating for our economy.
Projects like the Ergon-Bunge ethanol plant not only will help sustain our quality of life throughout America, it will be good particularly for rural farmers. To put it into perspective, this single plant has the potential to use more than half of Mississippi’s annual corn crop. As America begins to fully enact ethanol production with plants like this, it’s estimated that more than a quarter of the nation’s corn crop could be used for fuel, giving farmers a huge new market.
Aside from the obvious benefits of using grain to fuel our cars or generate electricity, renewable energy and domestic production of traditional energy sources like oil and natural gas could be the next big boom in our economy.
As Congressman Pickering pointed out at the groundbreaking, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the man largely responsible for designing most of the computer software we use every day, says that energy production could drive the American economy in much the same way computers and the Internet have done. Gates said that while the economy of the last 20 years was largely based around information technology, the global economy of the next two decades will be propelled by efforts to find new energy sources.
I hope he’s right because if he is, Mississippi will be at the forefront. Think about it. We already have a diverse array of energy production. We’re about to expand the nuclear power plant at Port Gibson. Chevron’s largest oil refinery, located in Pascagoula, is expanding. A new biodiesel plant is coming to Greenville. In East Mississippi, new technology is enabling lignite to be harvested as a fuel. We’re talking about locating liquified natural gas terminals on the coast, and we’re working to increase oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond all this, we’re a state with an impressive portfolio of seaports, river ports and highways to transport our newly-produced energy.
The Ergon-Bunge ethanol plant groundbreaking was a symbolic moment and an important development in what we hope will be a steady march toward energy independence for our nation. America can do it. We have the land, the crops, the technology, the transportation systems and distribution logistics capacity to domestically produce just about any traditional or alternative fuel. We can wean ourselves off foreign oil. All we need now is the will, and that is surely coming.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email