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Alternative fuels take spotlight in energy bill

Makers and users of various alternative, home-grown fuels are anxiously awaiting passage of a proposed energy bill channeling its way through Congress.

In late May, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a comprehensive energy bill — legislation that the Senate leaders say could be brought before the full Senate floor in the very near future.

Also in May, the Senate adopted a measure in the version of its bill that calls for an 8-billion gallon renewable fuels standard by 2012.

That amount is significantly higher than the 5-billion fuel standard called for in the House of Representative’s version of the bill, which passed last month.

But two senators, Democrat Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Republican Jim Talent of Missouri, both on the Energy Committee, expressed confidence that a final bill would outline standards closer to the Senate’s version.

Johnson noted that the production of ethanol, which currently amounts to the largest percent of renewable domestic energy, peaked in 2004 at 3.45 billion gallons.

“I do expect an energy bill to pass in the Senate this time around,” Johnson said.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said the standard “raises the bar.”

“If enacted, an 8-billion-gallon renewable fuels standard would not only benefit the environment, but also provide substantial market growth opportunities for traditional ethanol, cellulosic ethanol technology and biodiesel,” he said.

A comprehensive energy bill has been delayed in the U.S. Senate because of debate over the cost of the legislation, in addition to the provision that permits oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Final legislation is expected to cost more than $8 billion.

The recent spike in gasoline prices has enhanced the national interest in becoming more dependent on energy sources other than traditional crude oil, as well as depending less on fuel from overseas countries.

Of the 20 million barrels of crude oil the United States consumes daily — one-quarter of global consumption — 65 percent is imported.

While President Bush recently lauded progress at a hydrogen fueling station in Washington D.C., he similarly hailed the role soybean producers are already playing toward biodiesel production.

Bush called biodiesel “one of our nation’s most promising alternative fuel sources.”

Members of the American Soybean Association recently praised the introduction of legislation in both the Senate and House of Representatives that would extend the biodiesel tax incentive to 2010.

The credit, which equals to a penny per percentage of biodiesel blended with conventional diesel, was included in the Jobs Act of 2004, but is set to expire without extension in December 2006.

“The ASA has long advocated that soybean farmers stand ready to help our country meet its energy needs, and the extension of the biodiesel tax incentive will allow us to do our part,” said ASA President Neal Bredehoeft.

Biodiesel is being used as fuel in public transportation, such as buses, in communities across the country, while more and more trucks are adapting to the alternative fuel.


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