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Iowa Democrat will push for ethanol boost in farm bill, too

Agriculture.com Staff 05/18/2006 @ 1:09pm

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters Thursday that if Congress doesn't pass legislation to boost America's use of ethanol and other biofuels this year, that he'll try to get it into the next farm bill. Harkin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee and was chair of the committee when the 2002 Farm Bill was drafted.

Still, Harkin, like more and more members of Congress, has his name on several bills that would dramatically increase the size of the current renewable fuel standard, which mandates that the nation use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012. Most people involved in the ethanol industry believe it will pass that much capacity long before 2012. The industry had 4.5 billion gallons of capacity at the end of last year and more than 2 billion gallons of new or expanded capacity is being built. Harkin said Thursday that the ethanol industry is expanding at the rate of 25% a year.

Many of the bills are supported only by groups of Democratic or Republican Senators, which makes you wonder if anything more than bill introduction will happen in an election year.

Harkin held out hope that it might.

"There are a number of biofuels bills floating around in the House and Senate. Hopefully something will coalesce out of these and we get something done this year," he said.

Harkin's own bill, the Biofuels Security Act, is bipartisan, but just barely. The lone Republican co-sponsor is Senator Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on one of the Senate's strongest backers of renewable fuels and energy independence. The other co-sponsors are Senators Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Joe Biden of Delaware and, according to Johnson's office, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota -- all Democrats.

One of the key features of the bill, as Johnson pointed out this week, is that it ramps up the renewable fuels standard (RFS) more quickly than current law. The Biofuels Security Act requires an RFS of 10 billion gallons by 2010, 30 billion by 2020 and 60 billion by 2030, when much more of fuel ethanol is expected to be made from biomass.

Here are other features of the bill, as described in a statement from Lugar's office, along with background on other energy bills introduced by Lugar and fellow senators:

The bill would also require all vehicles to be Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) and require the major branded U.S. gasoline companies to carry E-85 renewable fuel (motor fuel with 85% ethanol content) at 50% of their gasoline stations.

The legislation would require all U.S. marketed vehicles to be manufactured as FFVs by 2016. FFVs can use both regular gasoline and E-85 renewable fuel, and this capability ensures access to an important alternative to foreign petroleum as the nation's renewable fuels industry continues to expand rapidly.

To respond to the increase in FFVs, the legislation would require the major branded U.S. gasoline companies to carry E-85 renewable fuel at 50% of their gasoline stations by 2016. To assist with the improvements, Lugar and Harkin introduced a companion tax bill, which would increase the tax credit from 30% to 50% for gas stations that convert pumps to E-85 and offer a 75% tax credit to companies owning less than five stations.

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