Gen. Wesley Clark leads the battle for ethanol

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For each fill-up at the gas station, Americans are paying the price for foreign oil. During the last month, gas prices climbed about 40 cents per gallon around the Quad Cities.

"We've never gotten a grip on this energy policy," said Wesley Clark. "It's the most classic, deepest failure of American policy."

That's why Clark, a retired four-star general and one-time presidential candidate, came to Annawan. Clark says that ethanol grows jobs, reduces the deficit and strengthens America's place on the world stage.

"Every barrel of ethanol produced is a barrel of oil that's not imported," he said.

These days, Gen. Clark is waging war on the U.S. dependence on foreign oil by serving as co-chairman of ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy.

Understandably, it's an important issue at Patriot Renewable Fuels, which hosted him at its annual meeting on Thursday. The Annawan-based ethanol plant makes 110 million gallons per year. That takes about 40,000 truckloads of corn. Its gross revenue is approaching $300 million.

"Ethanol is cheaper," said Judd Hulting, Patriot's commodities manager. "We need more ethanol flex fuel vehicles out there. We need more pumps that dispense flex fuel. I think it sells itself."

Clark wants to shift from influencing legislation to influencing demand for the product. It's what he calls ethanol's "bottoms-up movement" to take on big oil companies.

"This is our technology," Clark said. "It's all American technology, and it's never going to be taken away from Americans."

With all that price pain at the pump these days, Clark says that tomorrow's future needs to arrive today.