General Wesley Clark spoke at Syngenta regional headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., on March 21 in support of the biofuels industry and what biofuels can mean for the future of America’s energy independence.

Clark, a retired four-star general, serves as co-chairman of Growth Energy and CEO of Wesley K. Clark & Associates, a strategic consulting firm. Clark retired after a 38-year career in the U.S. Army. He graduated first in his class at West Point and obtained degrees in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University (B.A. and M.A.) as a Rhodes Scholar.

Clark was severely wounded in Vietnam where he commanded an infantry company in combat. He later commanded at the battalion, brigade and division level and served in a number of significant staff positions, including service as the director of strategic plans and policy. In his last assignment, as supreme allied commander Europe he led NATO forces to victory in Operation Allied Force, saving 1.5 million Albanians from ethnic cleansing.  His awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Defense Distinguished Service Medal (five awards), Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, honorary knighthoods from the British and Dutch governments and the award of Commander of the Legion of Honor (France).

Clark, a major supporter of the biofuels industry based on his background in defense, covered topics ranging from ethanol’s vital role in U.S. energy independence to a partnership with NASCAR. He said that ethanol is a bridge toward reduced, and potentially eliminated, dependence on foreign oil, adding that energy independence is an issue of “national security.” Clark added that this dependence is also “a tax on our economy.” The tax could cost the American people billions of dollars each year, which could total $1,000 for each man, woman and child in the U.S. in the future.

According to Clark, one misconception in the debate over ethanol is described as the “food vs. fuel” argument. The dispute revolves around the choice of producing fuel from corn rather feeding the world’s population. Clark strongly refutes this possibility, stating that there are around one billion acres of unused cropland in the world. Much of this land lies in Eastern Europe, where farms were abandoned when commodity prices sank. 

Farmers are crucial in the process of American energy independence. “Farmers are a tremendous American resource,” Clark said. “The great unspoken assumption” is that the U.S. enjoys a position of power in the world as a result of its ability to feed its population. In addition to the direct support that farmers provide by growing corn for ethanol, the industry also relies on farmers to indirectly support the companies that are involved in or are in support of ethanol production.