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

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.

A decade ago, Senator Lugar began pushing for a national biomass ethanol research program. Witnesses at Agriculture Committee hearings he chaired from 1996 to 1999 said this would be the most efficient method to produce ethanol. In 1999, Lugar and former CIA Director James Woolsey co-authored a seminal article that linked foreign policy and high cost of securing foreign oil flowing to the United States with the development of homegrown ethanol derived from any form of cellulose ("The New Petroleum," Foreign Affairs). Lugar then authored and passed the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000, which remains the nation's premier legislation guiding renewable fuels research.

In 2005, Lugar led 21 bipartisan Senators in introducing the Fuels Security Act to more than double the production and use of domestic renewable fuels including ethanol, biodiesel and fuels produced from cellulosic biomass. This legislation laid the groundwork for the renewable fuels section of the energy bill that passed Congress in July 2005.

Throughout the 109th Congress, Lugar has cosponsored a host of bipartisan legislation to address U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to promote biofuels. Lugar has joined with Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Barack Obama (D-IL) in introducing the Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act , S. 1994, that would require all U.S. marketed vehicles to be manufactured as FFVs within ten years. In addition, Lugar is an original cosponsor of Sen. Evan Bayh's bill, the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act , S. 2025. This bill would provide for changes in oil conservation, new measures to improve fuel economy, tax credits for hybrid cars and advanced fuels, encourage use of renewable fuels, and set new regulations for federal fleets.

Lugar also introduced the American Fuels Act , S. 2446, which would take a four-step approach to reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. First, the legislation would spur investment in alternative fuels by increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol and create an Alternative Diesel Standard. Second, it would help increase consumer demand for alternative fuels by providing a short-term, 35 cents per gallon tax credit for E85 fuel and by providing automakers with a $100 tax credit for every FFV produced. Third, it would require the U.S. government to increase access to alternative fuels by requiring the government to allow public access to alternative fueling stations located on federal government property. Finally, it would create a Director of Energy Security to oversee and keep America focused on its goal of energy independence.

On February 6, 2006, Lugar addressed the U.N. Security Council, saying, "Like the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the potential scarcity of energy supplies and the imbalances that exist among nations represent grave threats to global security and prosperity... When we reach the point that the world's oil-hungry economies are competing for insufficient supplies of energy, fossil fuels will become an even stronger magnet for conflict than they already are... The bottom line is that critical international security goals, including countering nuclear weapons proliferation, supporting new democracies, and promoting sustainable development are at risk because of over-dependence on fossil fuels." Read more.

On March 13, 2006, Lugar addressed the Brookings Institution , saying, "... the balance of realism has passed from those who argue on behalf of oil and a laissez faire energy policy that relies on market evolution, to those who recognize that in the absence of a major reorientation in the way we get our energy, life in America is going to be much more difficult in the coming decades … there is not a full appreciation of our economic vulnerability or the competition that is already occurring throughout the world ... oil will become an even stronger magnet for conflict and threats of military action, than it already is ... Geology and politics have created petro-superpowers that nearly monopolize the world's oil supply. According to PFC Energy, foreign governments control up to 77% of the world's oil reserves through their national oil companies. These governments set prices through their investment and production decisions, and they have wide latitude to shut off the taps for political reasons..."

On the Web:
Lugar's energy Web site: http://lugar.senate.gov/energy

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.

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