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Lawmakers want ethanol answers from EPA and DOE

DANIEL LOOKER 07/29/2010 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

A bipartisan group of senators who support ethanol will meet with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu Monday to try to find out why industry requests for higher blends of the biofuel in gasoline are being delayed.

 “They’re going to know how we feel, and I want to know who’s really holding this up. Is it EPA or is it DOE?” Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told Agriculture.com during a press conference Thursday.

 EPA is calling for more testing of the effects of a 15% ethanol blend on car engines by the Department of Energy, delaying until possibly the end of the year a final decision on a request by the ethanol trade group, Growth Energy, to boost the ethanol blend level from 10% to 15%.

Energy Secretary Chu was quoted in a trade publication last fall saying that he personally would prefer to develop electric cars instead of more reliance on biofuels.

 This week, another strong supporter of ethanol, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “The Environmental Protection Agency has taken extra time to make their decision on raising the allowable ethanol blend level. More than adequate attention has been paid to concerns that might arise. Further delay is unwarranted.”

 Lugar is also planning to be at the meeting, along with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) and others.

“He continues to be an advocate for moving toward E15 and new vehicles being flex fuel so they can use up to E85,” Lugar’s spokesman, Andy Fisher told Agriculture.com.

Pressure to increase ethanol blend levels is just one of several ways that Harkin and Lugar are fighting to boost ethanol demand.

The two senators are sponsoring an amendment to  an energy bill expected to come up for debate next week as well. The amendment would mandate production of flex fuel vehicles capable of burning up to 85% ethanol, require the installation of blender pumps to dispense several levels of ethanol blends, and create a federal loan guarantee program for ethanol pipelines.

 Harkin said he won’t support an energy bill without those provisions.

“Ethanol is still one of the best, fastest ways to cut down on imported oil,” he said.

 Another key to ethanol support is the 45 cent-a-gallon tax credit that goes to fuel blenders. It expires at the end of this year.  That’s not on the agenda Monday, and could be delayed for months.

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