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Democrats: Get serious about energy independence

Some members of Congress want America to get serious about producing and using our own domestic fuel supply from corn, soybeans, and biomass.

Thursday a group of Democratic members of the House of Representatives announced support for a bill that would require 20% of all fuel sold for cars and gasoline-powered trucks to be ethanol by the year 2015. It also mandates 15% biodiesel use by that year.

Separately, Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, announced his own package of legislation that would mandate that America consume 60 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel by 2030. If all of that were ethanol, it would be roughly half of today's gasoline use.

The House bill, whose main author is South Dakota Representative Stephanie Herseth, would also require that 75% of cars made for the U.S. market be flex-fuel vehicles in seven years. Flex-fuel cars and trucks can burn either gasoline or gas-ethanol blends of up to 85% ethanol. Harkin's bill would mandate a 10-year phase-in. That part of Harkin's package has already been introduced with support from Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

So far, though, this is mainly a partisan Democratic effort, which obviously won't go too far in a Republican-controlled Congress. But Tom Buis, president of National Farmers Union, thinks that Herseth's plan will get bipartisan support.

"Being an election year and $3 gasoline will spur action. I think we'll get something done," Buis told Agriculture Online. Buis joined Democratic members of the House of Representatives when the bill was unveiled Thursday. "It's the most comprehensive biofuels legislation we've yet seen," he added. Several Democratic members of the House as well as Harkin also said they're hoping for support from Republicans.

The House bill would require gas stations to add E-85 pumps in a region when more than 15% of light-duty vehicles in that area are flexible fuel vehicles.

Buis said that lack of E-85 pumps and lack of flexible fuel vehicles are a chicken-and-egg problem for advancing ethanol use. Currently flex-fuel vehicles account for about 2% of those on the road and Detroit doesn't want to accelerate production until there are more E-85 pumps. Right now the nation has only about 650 E-85 pumps and oil companies are resisting adding more until there are enough vehicles to use the fuel.

The House bill also would set up a strategic feedstock reserve, a voluntary program that would pay farmers to store adequate supplies of corn and other feedstocks for renewable fuels. Buis's organization has long supported that concept, too.

"Just as it makes sense to have a strategic oil reserve it makes sense to have a strategic renewable reserve," he said.

The House bill would increase spending on research on efficient ways to make ethanol from biomass. And it would extend current tax credits for ethanol and biodiesel to 2015. Under current law, those tax credits expire in 2008.

"This plan is part of a plan to be energy independent in the next 10 years," Herseth told reporters Thursday.

Some members of Congress want America to get serious about producing and using our own domestic fuel supply from corn, soybeans, and biomass.

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