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Ag energy getting too little in economic stimulus package, Harkin says

An $888 billion economic stimulus bill moving through the Senate has more than $40 billion in increased spending for Department of Energy projects but only about $250 million for USDA programs to promote biofuels and rural energy conservation, something that doesn't please Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the agriculture committee.

Many of the Department of Energy's projects sound green -- improving energy efficiency in schools and hospitals, for example.

But the $40 billion also includes nearly $5 billion for fossil energy, research and demonstrations projects, which Harkin said is to develop clean coal technology, which involves trying to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"They're chasing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Harkin said.

"We keep pushing more and more money into clean coal technology. It's an oxymoron. There's no such thing," Harkin told Agriculture Online Thursday.

He said it makes more sense to increase spending even more for wind, biomass and solar energy.

Harkin said that he'll sponsor an amendment to increase USDA spending on alternatiave energy by at least $500 million. It would go for development of energy from biomass, cellulosic ethanol and wind.

"These windmills aren't going to be built in cities. They're going to be build on farms and ranches," he said.

When asked what the stimulus bill would do to help existing corn ethanol plants, which are struggling, Harkin said that there will be additional money and tax incentives to encourage more installation of pumps with E-85 (85% ethanol) at gas stations as well as blender pumps, which can dispense several levels of ethanol blends that are higher than the 10% now sold in unleaded gasoline.

"If we do these things, then we’ll be back on the road," he said.

The Renewable Fuels Standard in existing energy legislation will also mandate the use of about 10 billion gallons of ethanol in gasoline this year, he said.

An $888 billion economic stimulus bill moving through the Senate has more than $40 billion in increased spending for Department of Energy projects but only about $250 million for USDA programs to promote biofuels and rural energy conservation, something that doesn't please Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the agriculture committee.

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