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Energy bill clash is a waste of energy

By Dave Frederickson
National Farmers Union President

(Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- For a second year, the omnibus energy bill is bogged down in disputes over electric deregulation, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and gasoline additives. Unfortunately, these battles are complicating a popular and needed provision to promote energy independence and provide opportunities in rural America.

Farmers and ranchers are most concerned with the House and Senate disagreement over the renewable fuels standard (RFS). While the Senate RFS would triple renewable fuels in less than 10 years, the House plan provides a more lengthy phase-in for increased ethanol use. The Senate plan would rid America of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that is a proven pollutant of private wells and ground water in a vast majority of states. The House language does not ban MTBE and, instead, provides liability protection for MTBE producers.

The answer to this conflict is a no-brainer. On one hand, we have the Senate’s plan to increase usage of sustainable and renewable fuels and provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to MTBE. On the other hand, there’s the House version that provides a safe harbor for MTBE producers, many of which are overseas companies. Shouldn’t we be more concerned about protecting our environment than the companies that are contributing to its ruin?

In addition, the conference committee is considering drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, a House proposal. But, it seems to be ignoring the Senate’s proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline, which would help reduce soaring natural gas prices that affect America’s home heating bills and farmers’ current bottom line.

The Senate energy plan has the support of the petroleum industry, the agriculture community and a bipartisan Senate majority. Meanwhile, the House version is being pushed in conference committee without bipartisan participation.

Enacting anything less than the Senate’s RFS is truly a waste of energy. The Senate energy legislation brings America a lot closer to energy independence and environmental stewardship. The House version is simply unacceptable. In fact, 42 senators have threatened filibuster if the energy bill includes the House’s liability waiver for MTBE manufacturers. If the House energy plan prevails in conference committee, Congress may have to start from scratch on energy legislation for a third year.

Congress should not blow this historic opportunity to power our nation with renewable energy that would create economic opportunities in rural America, stabilize farm income, improve the environment and help free our nation from reliance on imported energy sources. U.S. farmers and ranchers are standing by, prepared to contribute to our nation’s growing energy needs.

On behalf of 300,000 farm and ranch families, National Farmers Union (www.nfu.org) works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for rural citizens through legislative representation, educational opportunities and support for farmer-owned cooperative ventures. Contact NFU at nfunews@nfu.org.