While the petroleum industry and alternative fuels supporters debate the merits of more domestic drilling versus providing assistance through the federal Renewable Fuels Standard in diversifying the transportation fuels market, it's important to note the protections afforded American consumers by the country's first commercially available advanced biofuel — biodiesel.

Livestock producers such as the National Pork Producers Council have long been on record supporting biodiesel production because it reduces livestock costs, which ultimately benefits consumers. Biodiesel produced from soybean crops uses only the excess oil and none of the protein rich meal that is used in livestock feed. As a result, the meal from soy, a staple in animal diets, is less expensive today because of the demand for the natural oil in soy-based biodiesel. Studies suggest that the savings as a result of biodiesel production can be as much as $25 per ton for animal producers that feed soy protein meal.

And those aren't the only savings that can be passed on to consumers. Our industry has created a strong new market for animal fats that can be used in biodiesel production, which increases the per-head value of livestock and reduces price pressures on meat and dairy products. Further, not only does biodiesel production reduce feed costs, but because it can also be made from animal fat, our industry provides another revenue stream for livestock producers. In fact, studies show this new revenue stream equates to $10 to $12 per head for beef cattle or as much as $350 million dollars annually across the beef, swine and poultry industries.

Perhaps most importantly for consumers, the Renewable Fuels Standard program is creating competition to petroleum by providing diversity in the transportation fuels sector. The fact is that we're never going to be able to drill our way out of our energy problems. Producing more oil at home isn't going to improve the air we breathe and it's not going to make us independent of the global events that ultimately determine the cost of a barrel of oil. We recognize that petroleum is priced by an international market. And that's not going to change whether the oil is pulled out of North Dakota or shipped from Saudi Arabia.

It's also important to not lose sight of the fact that the Renewable Fuel Standard is doing exactly what it was intended to do. It's supporting tens of thousands of good jobs here at home. It's spurring investment in new and exciting advanced biofuels. It's helping lessen our reliance of foreign fuels.

And there's no doubt biodiesel is helping produce cleaner air. According to the EPA, biodiesel lowers carbon pollution by as much as 86 percent compared to petroleum diesel and it drastically reduces carcinogenic hydrocarbons. In much of the Northeast, biodiesel is even working to help reduce emissions in heating oil systems.

Let's not turn back now.

Jessica Robinson, Jefferson City, Mo.

The writer is a member of the National Biodiesel Board.