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Renewable Energy Is Available Now

Even Congress has become fully aware of the nation’s energy crisis and the need for a comprehensive energy bill. Natural gas prices are on the rise, our electricity transmission grid is outdated, and America is too dependent on foreign energy sources. There can no longer be a doubt that America needs a pro-growth national energy policy.

The new Congress is a new opportunity for us to pass a good bill, and an important component should be a strong renewable fuels package.

While many new technologies Congress has considered are still embryonic, ethanol and biodiesel are available today. My kids might one day drive a hydrogen vehicle, but today we can fill our gas tanks with fuel blended with corn or soybeans without changing our vehicles to accommodate the fuel.

It’s time for the full Senate to recognize what many other Senators and certainly rural America have known for years: Renewable energy is not science fiction, it’s available, now.

Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and I formed the Senate Biofuels Caucus to support the use and development of renewable fuels. We have been working closely together to make certain the Senate energy bill includes a Renewable Fuels Standard that would gradually increase the nation’s use of renewable fuel to a minimum of 5 billion gallons a year by 2012, while phasing down the use of MTBE.

Over the past few years, the ethanol industry has expanded production by over 40 percent to meet our nation’s energy needs. A record number of new ethanol plants have been constructed — the majority of which are farmer-owned — and many more are scheduled for completion.

Additionally, the biodiesel industry is growing. Five years ago, only a few entities with fleets of cars and trucks used biodiesel. Today, hundreds of major fleets have implemented biodiesel programs, including federal fleets of the U.S. Postal Service, the Air Force, the Army, the Energy Department and NASA; state fleets such as Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey; and many private fleets.

The benefits of renewable fuels are incalculable. But, here are five good reasons the Senate should pass a strong renewable fuels package as part of the energy bill.

First, renewable fuels mean jobs for America. New jobs are created as a consequence of increased economic activity caused by ethanol production. A recent study found that increasing ethanol production to 5 billion gallons annually would create 214,000 jobs in the United States. These are long-term, good jobs in agriculture, trade, transportation, energy, manufacturing and food processing.

Second, the Renewable Fuels Standard will strengthen our nation’s energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Right now we import about 59 percent of our oil from other countries. For every gallon of ethanol we grow and use in the United States, that is one less gallon we need to import from other places. America has the resources to address our long-term energy needs without having to rely on the producers of foreign oil. We should be investing here at home, not overseas, to build a sustainable energy future for our children and grandchildren.

Third, support for renewable fuels will lower prices at the pump. Last year, the National Corn Growers Association released the “Consumer Impacts of the Renewable Fuels Standard,” a study by renowned agriculture expert and economist John Urbanchuk. The study illustrates how blending ethanol with gasoline at a 10 percent level will reduce the retail price of conventional regular gasoline by 5 percent, or 6.6 cents per gallon based on national average 2002 prices, providing consumers $3.3 billion in savings every year.

Fourth, renewable fuels ensure cleaner air and a cleaner environment. Ethanol and biodiesel are two of the best tools we have to fight air pollution from vehicles. Ethanol and biodiesel are produced from corn and soybeans, unlike petroleum-based fossil fuels that have a limited supply and are the major contributor of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas. The Renewable Fuels Standard also phases down MTBE, a toxic additive, linked to groundwater contamination.

Fifth, renewable fuels promote rural economic development, which helps our family farmers and agricultural producers. The Renewable Fuels Standard will help smooth out some of the cycles of commodity prices, so when the price of corn goes down, producers can make additional dollars by selling ethanol. America’s farmers are equipped to help us produce renewable energy and we should be willing to help them by promoting increased value-added market opportunities.

Renewable fuels are at the crux of economic growth and jobs; at the crux of energy security; at the crux of consumer benefits; at the crux of environmental quality; and at the crux of value-added agriculture for America’s producers. The renewable fuels package passed by an overwhelming vote in the previous Senate. It is time to pass an energy bill, and a renewable fuels package should be part of it.

Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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