The House passed and President Bush signed energy legislation that sets new renewable fuel goals and raises the average fuel economy standard for automobiles for the first time in 32 years.
The Energy Independence and Security Act, which President Bush signed Dec. 19, requires the country to work toward the production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. Automakers would have to increase the average mileage of new vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
The bill passed the House by a 314-100 vote Dec. 18 after a bruising battle in the Senate in which Democrats sought to eliminate $13 billion in tax incentives a Republican-controlled Congress gave the oil industry in 2005. The bill passed the Senate by an 86-8 margin after Senate leaders agreed to pull the language.
National Corn Growers Association members were ecstatic over the passage of the bill, which had been given up for dead more than once in recent weeks. The bill requires that 15 billion of the 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels come from corn with 20 billion from cellulosic-based ethanol and 1 billion from biodiesel.
“NCGA is delighted President Bush signed the energy bill into law, taking an historic step in strengthening America's national security and reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer, a farmer from Greene, Iowa.
“NCGA appreciates Congress's strong bipartisan leadership in getting the energy bill to the president's desk. This legislative victory would not have been possible without the many renewable fuels advocates who paved the way. This energy bill demonstrates that leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties clearly understand the future energy needs of this country.”
The first step in the new law would be to boost renewable fuel production from 6 billion to 7 billion gallons this year to 9 billion gallons in 2008. The bill also provides funding for research on production of so-called advanced biofuels, such as “cellulosic” ethanol from switchgrass, corn stover or other organic materials.
Other funding would go to studies on the feasibility of ethanol pipelines, higher blend levels and the optimization of flex fuel vehicles. The lack of an infrastructure such as a pipeline for moving ethanol adds to the transportation costs for the product.
“The National Corn Growers Association put out a national call to its members to contact their congressional leadership and they responded in a big way,” Litterer said. Growers contacted their members of Congress, wrote letters, sent e-mails, attended town hall meetings, and made Capitol Hill visits. Their diligence has truly paid off.”
Other farm groups joined Litterer in thanking the House and Senate and the president for reaching a compromise on the energy legislation. But one, American Farmland Trust, said more must be done to ensure biofuel production does not harm the environment.
AFT President Ralph Grossi called on Congress to finish work on the new farm bill to complement its efforts in passing the new energy bill.
“Congress worked to include safeguards in the energy legislation that are a good starting point, however, the government has now provided incentives for farmers to convert more farmland into energy production,” said Grossi. “We must couple the incentives with increased support for conservation and farmland protection in the farm bill.”
The Senate passed a new farm bill by a 79-14 vote on Dec. 14. The legislation goes to a House-Senate conference committee that will attempt to reconcile the Senate bill with the farm bill passed by the House. The conference committee will send a compromise bill back to the House and Senate for approval and then to the president.
Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner has said the bill must undergo a significant metamorphosis before President Bush will sign the measure. Among the changes the president wants are no new taxes and a sharply reduced adjusted gross income level for farm program payments.
Grossi wants more funding for farm bill conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program that help farmers change production practices to protect water and improve environmental quality; and the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program that ensures that valuable working lands are protected from development in order to continue the production of food, fiber and bio-energy.
“AFT urges Congress and the administration to complement the safeguards in the RFS by supporting strong funding increases for the already over-subscribed conservation and farmland protection programs in the farm bill,” he said.
“AFT is pleased that the energy bill promotes energy efficiency and discourages waste. Reducing consumption of all forms of energy will reduce pressures on working lands. In addition, the advanced fuels component of the RFS will help development of the next generation of environmentally-friendly biofuels,” said Grossi.