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Energy bill less likely to pass without ethanol included, Harkin says

DANIEL LOOKER 08/04/2010 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

The U.S. Senate begins its August recess next week without passing even a scaled down energy bill. If the bill comes up when it returns in September, a bipartisan group of midwestern senators will try to amend it to include requirements for more flexible fuel vehicles, blender pumps and ethanol pipelines.

"If an energy bill passes, this is going to be in it," Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told Agriculture.com Thursday.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pulled his own stripped-down version of an energy bill. Harkin wouldn't speculate on whether or not the Senate will pass an energy bill before the November election. But Harkin and others clearly didn't like Reid's bill, which would have ended a cap on oil company liability for spills as well as including incentives for other alternatives for transportation, natural gas and electricity.

"Four billion for natural gas, $400 million for electric vehicles and nothing for biofuels? What? Come again?" Harkin asked with a trace of sarcasm.

"I'm all for electric vehicles," he added later, "but that's way down the road." Harkin believes ethanol is the only alternative fuel that can have an immediate impact on further reducing the nation's dependence on imported oil.

Harkin has said several times that he won't support an energy bill without support for biofuels. Wednesday he announced that he and a group of senators that includes two Republicans, Indiana's Dick Lugar and Iowa's Chuck Grassley, will introduce an amendment to the energy bill that would include these steps to boost ethanol consumption:

  • mandating auto makers to build more flex-fuel cars and trucks for sale in the U.S., starting at half of all vehicles in 2013 and ramping up to 90% by 2015 and beyond
  • requiring major fuel distributors to install blender pumps that dispense several levels of ethanol content, with one pump required on a tenth of their outlets by 2013 and on half by 2019 and later.
  • authorizing the Department of Energy to guarantee 80% of loans for building renewable fuel pipelines.
The amendment would also provide grants to smaller fuel distributors for up to half of the cost of putting in blender pumps.

The amendment is similar to bills that Harkin and Lugar have already introduced. "Senator Lugar and I have been on this for a long time," Harkin said.

Harkin said he's talked to Reid about the amendment.

"I think we're going to be able to wedge this in, get this into a bill before it passes," he said.

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