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Guest Editorial: American Agriculture and Clean Energy
by U.S. Representative Collin Peterson

American agriculture producers know what it means to have a clean energy job. Farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners have long participated in programs that conserve our natural resources, sequester carbon, and increase energy efficiency. As members of the agriculture community, we have a vested interest in ensuring the well-being of our lands, and we also play a leading role in meeting our nation’s energy independence goals.

The climate change bill passed by the House in June will help farmers continue to move the country toward energy independence. Provisions in the bill will allow the renewable fuels industry to grow and access the biomass needed to move to second and third generation biofuels production and repower existing plants.

First of all, it was important that energy policy passed this year correct the unfair restrictions the 2007 Energy Bill placed on U.S. renewable energy production. In implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) provisions of the 2007 Energy Bill, the EPA penalized biofuels producers by requiring that indirect greenhouse gas emissions from land use changes overseas be charged against biofuels’ eligibility for the RFS.

The House-passed climate bill stops the use of international indirect land use changes. Any future regulations will be required to be based on reliable and quantifiable sound science. This will prevent domestic biofuels producers from being unfairly hampered by regulations that blame them for deforestation and other land use changes overseas.

Secondly, the climate bill improved the definition and availability of renewable biomass. The definition of renewable biomass covers both private and public lands. We made it easier to use renewable biomass to produce renewable fuels or electricity by allowing sustainably harvested biomass from public lands and the farm bill definition for private lands. These new definitions will create a larger and more stable supply of biomass for renewable fuel producers.

Beyond the House climate bill, we need to look to the future and the best way to expand the use of renewable fuels in the United States. We need to focus on encouraging lower blends, such as E20 and E30, which would greatly expand the market for ethanol in the U.S. The key to moving forward lies with expanding flexibility and choice for consumers to decide for themselves how much ethanol they are going to use. The proliferation of biofuel blender pumps will help make that choice a reality.

The climate change bill takes a good step in that direction, by providing funding to help install these pumps. As the availability of blender pumps grows, we must also produce vehicles capable of using higher blends. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on blends of ethanol from 0 to 85 percent. It is an easy and very affordable option to manufacture cars with this flexibility.

New York Congressman Eliot Engel has introduced legislation that would establish in law a goal expressed by the major U.S. car companies to have 50 percent of all new vehicles by 2012 equipped with flex fuel technology. By 2015, that number would increase to 80 percent of new cars with that capacity. I believe this is an achievable goal and I strongly support his bill.

We can look to the success that Brazil achieved as they developed their domestic biofuels industry. Brazilian drivers can switch easily among various ethanol blends, depending on availability and market conditions. Brazil has also made a commitment to flexible fuel vehicles, and at one point almost 90 percent of new cars sold there were flexible fuel vehicles. Only 30 years ago, Brazil was importing 80 percent of their oil needs, and today, they are virtually energy independent. With the right mix of public policies and smart investments, biofuels can offer a similar opportunity here in the United States.

We can improve the environment, create jobs, and increase our energy independence by expanding consumers’ access to and ability to use renewable fuels. I’m excited about the future of the renewable energy industry and will continue to educate and work with my colleagues in Congress and the private sector to strengthen this vital American industry.

About the Author:

Congressman Collin Peterson is a Democrat representing Minnesota’s Seventh District, covering the western portion of the state. He serves as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

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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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