Annie Nelson on the 'Fuel That Doesn't Kill Us'
Annie Nelson, wife of Willie Nelson and co-chairperson of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, speaks to Truthdig about stomaching the State of the Union and the myth that alternative fuels are years away.
Did you see the State of the Union?
Nelson: Yeah, I stomached as much as I could.
Truthdig: Did you see what the president said about ethanol? … He did say one sentence or one line about biodiesel. Did any of that resonate with you?
Nelson: Yeah, about as much as it did the last time he said it. I mean, it’s all a bit of — it’s just talk. You know, they give 13 gazillion dollars to the oil and gas industry as some welfare for these people who are making phenomenal historic record-breaking profits, and less than — I think it’s 7.7 [billion] for research into alternative fuels which are already here. It’s lip service. It’s all lip service.
Truthdig: And what’s your involvement in biodiesel?
Nelson: Pretty much we’re proponents. I don’t know how else to say it. We’re in production. We have partnerships with Pacific Biodiesel Texas and Pacific Biodiesel, and we are doing community production of biodiesel. And our intent is to keep them community [based] and then promote that idea where each community … can and should create their own fuel, and let that be the market for the community.
Truthdig: What is biodiesel?
Nelson: It is the fuel that obviously powers — I’m going to go real elementary, right?
Nelson: The fuel that powers a diesel engine. Biodiesel needs to run in a diesel engine, and what it does — where it comes from are several sources. It can come from recycled cooking oil, which then keeps that junk out of landfills; several plant seed stocks from seeds and those types of things; the rendering of animals, just you name it. There are tons of ways to get it. There’s a process where they remove the glycerin — that’s biodiesel. You can put pure cooking oil into your car, but you have to have a converter inside of it. But just any regular diesel [vehicle] can run on biodiesel because it’s been refined, which means the glycerin has been taken out.
Truthdig: So … you can actually drive on recycled cooking oil?
Nelson: Yes, the diesel engine was designed to run on peanut and hemp oil, not petroleum. But then again Rudolf Diesel disappeared over the Atlantic. It never was intended to run on petroleum, and in fact I think an interesting connection is if you go — if you check out the Prohibition era, when the government was going after stills that were on farms and such, a lot of those stills were producing ethanol and biodiesel for — mainly ethanol — for farm production, for their machinery. That’s what happened. There were so many people involved in it, in that whole deal, that Prohibition was probably a whole lot less about alcohol and a whole lot more about killing the renewable energy possibilities. Obviously the petroleum companies were behind it.
Truthdig: What’s the difference between biodiesel and ethanol?
Nelson: Well, ethanol is almost like — and I’m not an expert on ethanol at all, so let me just put that disclaimer in there immediately — it’s more like a grain alcohol, almost. It’s from sugar. It’s a plant that needs to have a particular cellulose to create a gasoline-type fuel. But it’s mainly turning the sugar into fuel.
Truthdig: With ethanol we know how much money has been given to Iowa and other states where ethanol is being produced. On Biodiesel.org, they say there’s no government program to support them [correction]. Do you have an opinion on that?
Nelson: Biodiesel.org is an actual biodiesel board and there are many others. They’re just one entity, and they’re fine. They tend to have a lot more large producers and a lot of soybean people. Our whole deal, and we just actually formed — Daryl Hannah and I are co-chairs and Kelly King and Laura Louie, who is Woody Harrelson’s wife, and a group of us just formed the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, where our intent is to focus specifically on sustainable community biodiesel production. And if it ends up being ethanol as well at some future date, that’s fine, but the whole point is to keep it community — to eliminate the ADMs and the Cargills and those people … large oil companies from just transferring their monopoly on Middle Eastern oil to home-produced, naturally produced fuel. Right now they can … it’s really a matter of connecting the farm bill with our national security bills and those types of things without allowing one group or one industry to control our energy, whether it be from the Middle East or from our own country. If it’s domestically produced, that should be domestically distributed as well. We’re here to protect the family farmers and the community co-ops that want to produce their own fuel and sell it.
Truthdig: Are there stations where people can fill up? One of the problems with ethanol has been transporting it and getting it to the public.
Nelson: People actually produce it all over the country. We do our tours through this whole country, and we do it on biodiesel. At least a blend. At minimum, it’s a blend of biodiesel. We try to do 100 percent whenever we can…. So, it’s out there. It’s already available. The funny thing about why $7.7 billion was given to renewable fuels — and that 7.7 is spread out between wind and geothermal and biomass and ethanol and biodiesel and others — that’s spread out amongst all of them. When 13 point something billion is given to the oil and gas industry and coal, and then another 12 to nuclear. So it’s kind of serious, but instead of doing that, let each community — that’s our deal — to connect communities and make sure that they can produce their own fuels so they’re not dependent on one of these corporations that have already proven that they could care less about these people’s interests, and do their own. Make their own fuel. Make their own security, which gives everybody in this country security because not one person or organization is controlling the market. What’s the difference between OPEC and a group of American oil companies who control our prices?
Truthdig: There’s a list of gas stations on Biodiesel.org and a few other of these sites….
Nelson: There are gas stations. What they have a list of is people who are members. There are other people besides them — many, many other people that are producing biodiesel. When we put the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance online, it will be to help people connect to where they can get fuel around the country and, at the same time, promote community-based fueling stations where people can pull off the highway and fill up with whatever blend they need or 100 percent. So that is something that just hasn’t been put together. That’s what we’re going for. It exists out there — a lot of people making fuel. We’re some of them. In fact, if there was even more help, this would go big guns, but it also takes the profit away from some people that are in control right now.
Truthdig: During the State of the Union, the president said he would try and reduce foreign fuel by  percent by 2017. You’re saying….
Nelson: We’re already doing it. There are so many people already doing it. In fact, taking people and putting them back on land. Even if we just put them back on their land and let them buy their farms back. Put them back on land that’s sitting fallow right now. Let them grow food for ourselves and fuel. Then each community would start thriving again. You’ve got people out of the city, so there would be less congestion in the city. People on land, where they’re not [driven] insane by the inner city, where that’s not where they belong anyway. Put them back on the land, let them grow our fuel, let them grow our food, have it be sustainably grown, and then we eliminate — well, first we would eliminate, by getting them out of the city, the congestion of carbon fibers in the air, plus if they’re going to be using renewable fuels — and specifically I can speak for biodiesel, if up to 100 percent, you can eliminate 99 percent of particulates in the air.
So why wouldn’t we do that? People don’t want to be in the city, people want to be on their land; they never wanted to leave it to begin with. They got thrown off their land because the market is manipulated. So we put them back on it and allow them to earn ownership — we did that in the ’30s — but allow them to earn their ownership back, and let them produce food and fuel for us — fuel that doesn’t kill us, and grow it sustainably so it doesn’t kill the water and everything around us either. It doesn’t make sense not to. Then you have thriving communities … when you put people back on the land then you need a grocery store, you need businesses that sustain those people. They have to buy their farm products somewhere, they have to buy their feed somewhere, when you get them back out there, you get those communities thriving again, and the heartbeat of America gets a little defibrillation — and certainly the economy. How is that bad? It’s not. It’s good for everybody; it’s just not great for those few who want it to be just good for them.
Annie Nelson is the wife of Willie Nelson and the co-chairperson of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance Inc. She is a supporter of sustainable, community-based biodiesel production as a method for restoring the dignity of small family farmers, the environment, the economy, energy independence and U.S. national security.Correction (revised):
Scheer says Biodiesel.org says it gets no government support, but the website actually refers to at least one government program and legislation it finds favorable.