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New House Ag chair 'not interested' in lifting ethanol tariff

Agriculture.com Staff 12/08/2006 @ 3:46pm

Their tenures as chairs of their respective chambers' agriculture committee have yet to begin, and already there is disagreement between Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Collin Peterson.

After earlier reports indicated Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, would support a lifting of tariffs on ethanol imported to the U.S. from abroad, the Minnesota Democrat Peterson took a hard line against such a move Friday.

"Are you serious?" Peterson said Friday after learning of Harkin's stance on the tariff. "I'm not in favor of that. I think we've got plenty of ethanol production in this country coming online to meet the demand of this industry, and I for one am not interested in making any changes in the foreseeable future in that."

In addition to diluting a now vibrant corn-based ethanol marketplace in the U.S., Peterson said allowing tariff-free ethanol imports would hamper efforts underway to develop cellulosic ethanol production, support for which Peterson says he hopes to include in the 2007 farm bill.

"To start up the cellulosic industry, we need to keep this product in the U.S. until this industry is up on its feet," Peterson said. "We will be moving on to cellulosic ethanol with potentially a CRP-type program where we would pay people a certain amount per acre to grow these different stocks, basically to determine what the best crop is to grow with the least cost and in a particular region that can produce enough biomass per acre to make cellulosic ethanol on an economic basis."

Peterson also Friday laid out his timeline for the formulation and subsequent passage of the 2007 farm bill. All told, the Minnesota Democrat said he hopes a new bill is ready by Labor Day.

"We will try to move expeditiously with the hopes to finish the bill in the House and Senate by this summer, at least by the August recess if not before," he said.

No substantial step toward the new farm bill can be taken, Peterson added, without knowing what sort of budget agriculture will be allocated for the next term. He said he was slated to meet with budget committee leaders, as well as Harkin, later Friday to get a glimpse into what type of baseline ag spending may be dealt.

"The big hurdle for us will be budget allocation or baseline, which we're hoping will be completed sometime in March," he said. "Until we see what the baseline is, it will be hard for us to do any of the decision-making. We're just getting everything lined up and getting everything together so that when we do get that number, we can move ahead."

Their tenures as chairs of their respective chambers' agriculture committee have yet to begin, and already there is disagreement between Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Collin Peterson.

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