PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A strong ethanol industry is vital to national security because it reduces U.S. reliance on foreign oil-producing countries, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said during a speech at the newly reopened Pratt Energy ethanol plant in southern Kansas.

Clark, who is now a lobbyist for the ethanol industry as co-chairman of the national group Growth Energy, is scheduled to testify Wednesday in front of the U.S. Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subcommittee.

He was in Kansas on Monday to speak at Pratt Energy, which re-opened in September and currently produces 20 truckloads of ethanol and 45 truckloads of dried distillers grains for livestock per day, The Wichita Eagle ( ) reported.

Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed cutting the federal government's ambitious 2007 mandate that required petroleum companies to purchase ever-increasing amounts of ethanol to blend into gasoline.

Almost all automobile fuel is 10 percent ethanol, but oil companies and other industry groups have lined up against the mandates. They argue that raising the amount of ethanol in automobile fuel will hurt engines and raise the cost of gasoline.

"They've done everything they could to drag out implementation and gut the law," Clark said.

Pratt Energy opened in 2008 but went into bankruptcy and closed a year later.

The previous owners didn't know what they were doing, according to the current plant manager, Jerry Schroeder.

The Scoular Co. bought the facility for its grain-buying and grain-handling operation and searched for a buyer. Pratt Energy bought the plant in 2012 and spent millions of dollars to renovate it before reopening it in September.

Scott Anderson, national ethanol marketer for Pratt Energy, said the plant buys locally and sells regionally. It consumes 65 truckloads of grain per day — half corn and half grain sorghum — from nearby counties. Its capacity is 55 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Pratt Energy mainly sells the ethanol in Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Okla., and surrounding markets, he said.

Both Anderson and Schroeder agreed with Clark's message that ethanol is good for America, farmers and Pratt Energy.

"People have to understand that this is an agriculture economy and that this plant is a big part of that," Anderson said.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle,