Congressional Democrats Introduce Rural Energy Bill

Democrats from both the House and Senate propose legislation that increases the renewable fuels standard and calls for more flex-fuel vehicles and E85 pumps. Jacqui Fatka 

Published on: May 12, 2006

Both chambers of Congress introduced legislation Thursday that calls for a higher renewable fuels standard and encourages more flex-fuel vehicles and E85 pumps for those cars to use.

The House Democrats joined forces and proposed its "Energizing America" package as an entire caucus. The House bill:

  • Doubles the percentage of renewable fuels sold in America in six years and makes sure that biodiesel and cellulosic sources, such as switchgrass, are a key part of that increase.
  • Extends tax credit for ethanol and biodiesel through 2015 and increases tax benefits to small biofuel producers.
  • Increases the percentage of "flex-fuel" vehicles that run on ethanol, or gasoline. In seven years, 75% of all cars made in America would be flex-fuel cars.
  • Increases the number of gas stations offering ethanol E85 and biodiesel through new incentives and requirements.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced similar legislation. Harkin proposes requiring large oil companies to install E85 pumps at their stations, increasing by five percentage points annually over the next 10 years, resulting in approximately 25% percent of all gasoline stations nationwide having E85 pumps available within a decade. He proposes an extended RFS for boosting ethanol and biodiesel production to 30 billion gallons annually by 2020 and then doubling that quantity over the following ten years to 60 billion gallons by 2030. 

Another key component of the House bill compared to Harkin's version is a strong emphasis on research and development to improve the use of renewable energy. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., co-chair of the Democratic Rural Working Group, explains that the President's budget request only asked for 50 cents for every American to be used for ethanol research advancement. The House plan wants to direct research funds to develop new processes for turning other farm products, such as switchgrass and woodchips into biofuels.

The House package does not have any Republican support, explains Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., co-chair of the Democratic Rural Working Group. Herseth says the first challenge is to beat back a proposal from House Republican leaders before Memorial Day that offers short term solutions to the energy situation, including lowering tariff barriers on ethanol imports.

Herseth says finding bipartisan support among farm state senators could help fold the Democratic laid out framework into broader energy legislation that may advance yet this summer.