Ethanol proposal may boost farmers

SALEM, Ohio – They sit idling at the nearest gas station, waiting to be pumped full of fuel. Soon, however, these BMWs, Chevys and Pontiacs may have tanks filled with gasoline containing ethanol, thanks to a plan approved last week by the Senate.

The proposal aims to double the domestic use of ethanol, thereby increasing compliance with federal clean air standards and decreasing U.S. dependence on imported oil.

The increased use of ethanol, an additive that helps gasoline burn cleaner, would be a major advantage for farmers since ethanol is made mainly from corn.

This renewable fuels standard amendment, part of a broad energy bill, will increase the use of ethanol to 5 billion gallons by 2012 and require all states but Hawaii and Alaska to have an ethanol/gasoline mixture at the pumps.

The amendment now awaits passage of the comprehensive bill.

Another additive. Supporters say the move will raise demand for farm products and boost the price of corn. It will also phase out the use of another gas additive known to contaminate water.

The questionable additive, methyl tertiary-butyl ether or MTBE, is used as an octane enhancer and to fulfill oxygenate requirements in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

The amendments required the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with serious air pollution. The thinking behind oxygenation is that oxygen helps gas burn more completely.

Some states already use ethanol as an environmentally friendly additive to gasoline instead of MTBE.

Ethanol increases the octane and improves the emission quality of gasoline. Corn fermentation produces ethanol.

Overwhelming approval. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the proposal in a 67-to-29 vote, despite opponents’ concerns of gas shortages and price surges in areas without ethanol plants.

A last-minute move by opponents attempted to exempt all but Midwestern states from the ethanol requirements, citing that these states would have a harder time getting the ethanol, thus raising the price of fuel in these areas. The amendment was struck down.

This argument comes on the heels of a study by the National Corn Growers Association, which found that blending ethanol with gasoline at a 10-percent level would potentially save consumers $3.3 billion annually.

Opportunity. Despite critics’ concerns, the measure may mean big opportunities for farmers, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman.

“By raising the demand for farm crops, this proposal would boost prices of corn and other crops, raise income for farmers and create more rural processing businesses,” she said.

“This in turn will create or maintain an estimated 13,000 rural jobs with 23 percent of them arising in farming, 21 percent in food processing and 56 percent in the nonfood sectors.”

Ohio and ethanol. In 2001, Ohio consumed 185 million gallons of ethanol, making it the nation’s second-largest consumer of ethanol.

Ohio is also the nation’s sixth-largest corn producing state.

Sens. Bill Frist, Republican majority leader from Tennessee, and Tom Daschle, Democratic minority leader from South Dakota, sponsored the renewable fuels standard.

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