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Ethanol rebellion building in Congress

When President George Washington and the nation's young democracy placed a tax on alcohol, they faced what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion from angry western farmers.

Soon, President Barack Obama's push for green jobs and climate change legislation could hit a wall of opposition from angry farm state Democrats and Republicans who don't like the way the Environmental Protection Agency is treating ethanol and biodiesel.

Thursday, the ethanol rebellion gathered strength when the House Agriculture Committee introduced a bill that prevents EPA from holding U.S. ethanol and biodiesel responsible for deforestation of tropical jungles. The EPA has thrown so-called indirect land use into its first estimates of the carbon footprint of fuels. That would make corn ethanol from new plants and much of the nation's soy-based biodiesel no longer eligible for federal mandates that require oil companies to use biofuels. The mandates, called the Renewable Fuel Standard in a 2007 energy bill, require the nation to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022.

Friday, the ag committee chairman, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), told Agriculture Online that he will work to defeat any climate change legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives until his "Renewable Fuel Standard Improvement Act," becomes law. And he has let the House leadership know how he feels.

"I've told them I want this passed. I want it signed by the President before I'll support anything else," he said Friday in a telephone interview from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he was waiting for a thunderstorm to blow over before flying his own plane to his southwest Minnesota district for the weekend.

Next week, Peterson expects the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed by Representative Henry Waxman of California, to pass a climate change bill. But he thinks he may have enough votes to defeat Waxman's bill when the full House votes on it. Peterson's bill that reins in the EPA has the backing of his committee's top Republican, Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, all 29 Democrats on the committee, and by Monday, probably most of the Republicans. As of Friday his bill had support from a few other House Democrats, with 42 co-sponsors joining Peterson and Lucas in opposing the EPA. House Republicans are expected to vote as a block against the climate bill, anyway. So Peterson said he'll need 37 Democrats to defeat the climate bill.

"If everybody stuck to their guns, we'd have enough votes, if they do get it out of Energy and Commerce -- and they bought enough votes they can get it out of committee -- then we can stop it on the floor," Peterson said.

When President George Washington and the nation's young democracy placed a tax on alcohol, they faced what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion from angry western farmers.

Peterson and other supporters of biofuels long have been unhappy over four last-minute changes in the 2007 energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act. One was using indirect land use to calculate greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels. The law requires EPA to calculate how much new fuels reduce greenhouse gas output and requires new corn ethanol plants to be at least 20% greener than gasoline. All soy biodiesel plants have to be 50% greener than diesel fuel. When the EPA put out its first estimates for comments on May 5, ethanol was only 16% better than gasoline and soy biodiesel was just 22% better than diesel.

Others in Congress are still trying to get EPA to revise its estimates of biofuel carbon output.

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