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Inside the Beltway: Finding a Vehicle for our Legislative Priorities
by Eric Washburn

The oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico has riveted the attention of the American public, and focused Washington DC energy policy wonks on the question of where and how the United States should get its transportation fuel.

For a nation that spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year on foreign oil, we need to thoughtfully and carefully develop our domestic oil and gas resources. But we also need to do a lot more to ensure that we can grow our domestic renewable fuel industry and meet the 36 billion gallon per year by 2022 goal of the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard. The irony is that the spill may be making it harder, not easier, to accomplish that goal.

To continue the expansion of the U.S. biofuels industry, we need to enact two key pieces of legislation: 1) the Harkin-Lugar Choice Act to expand consumer choice at the fuel pump by deploying more blender pumps and FFVs, and 2) the Grassley-Conrad bill to extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credits for five years. That means finding a viable legislative vehicle related to energy policy onto which biofuels supporters in Congress can add these two bills.

While in theory the climate change legislation that was unveiled by Senators Kerry and Lieberman could have provided that vehicle, it does not appear to have sufficient support to be enacted. As a result, Senate Democratic leaders are considering whether to try to enact the bipartisan energy bill that was approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee a year ago, the “American Clean Energy Leadership Act” (ACELA).

The challenge with this approach is that the political compromise that was made to gain bipartisan support for the ACELA bill was that it would include provisions encouraging more energy production (offshore oil and gas drilling) in exchange for provisions encouraging more energy conservation and deployment of renewable energy technologies. Now that the Gulf spill is occurring, it may be very difficult to pass any legislation that would expand opportunities to drill for oil offshore.

That could mean that at least for 2010 – a difficult year for legislation anyway due to the upcoming mid-term elections – passing crucial biofuels legislation will be much more complicated. Without an energy bill, it may be impossible to pass the Choice Act this year. Let’s just hope that Congress can extend the VEETC before it expires in December.

This uphill climb makes it more important than ever that ACE members continue contacting their Members of Congress to urge them to take action on these key priorities. We need to build upon the good work done during the ACE fly-in and convince Congress to act.

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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