Gas substitutes boost the flex-fuel car
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• Ramps up oil displacement with biofuels by, among other things, offering tax breaks to gas stations that offer ethanol and other fuels.Skip to next paragraph
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• Establishes a detailed oil-conservation program, which would include "oil savings" audits of federal agencies.
• Boosts research on ethanol made from plant fiber and other noncorn materials by $1 billion over five years.
• Offers tax credits, loan guarantees, and grants to automakers and suppliers that retool factories to build more efficient vehicles.
Congress, of course, is awash in energy bills that go nowhere. In fact, earlier versions of the current legislation enjoyed good bipartisan support in the last Congress. But they stumbled because they became ensnared in issues such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling – and drilling off the Florida coast. With Democrats now in charge of Congress, both issues seem off the table, giving the bill room to get going, observers say.
The biggest question marks are in the House of Representatives where the bill's success may depend on garnering support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – as well as the level of opposition from Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan, whose committee is known for blocking bills Detroit automakers don't like.
But especially if some modest White House support for the bill can be generated, the bill will make it through that committee, supporters say. There are already 60 cosponsors from both parties with the prospects for another 100 or so, observers say.
"I've talked with the president about this bill before, and I know he supports its goals," says Rep. Jack Kingston (R) of Georgia, the bill's cosponsor along with Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York. "If the president is looking for a legacy, shifting the nation away from oil to alternative fuels, it's sitting there waiting for him."
In the Senate, prospects appear even stronger. The bill got critical support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee where committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico is a cosponsor. Other key Democratic cosponsors include Sens. Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama.
One key stumbling block from the old version of the House bill has been excised: a provision to get rid of the current tariff that makes it more expensive to import ethanol. Even though energy hawks wanted it badly, the provision was a deal breaker because ethanol manufacturers – especially those in the critical state of Iowa where presidential aspirants must campaign first – don't want it.
That move has generated some criticism. "This legislation recognizes the dire geopolitical threat to us from imported oil," says Ariel Cohen, an energy expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. "What I find amiss is that it does not address the need to bring into the US the most competitive ethanol, sugar-cane ethanol [from Brazil and Caribbean nations], which is now penalized with punitive tariffs."