Politics stall ag issues

WASHINGTON – Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents hit the streets of Washington last week to gauge their legislators’ positions on everything from free trade agreements to the energy bill.

Although the agriculture leaders made their opinions known, what they got in response was “not this year.”

It’s almost election time so not much legislation will be passed, congressmen agreed.

“It’s disappointing, and maybe it can’t be helped,” said Sharon Needham, Jackson County president. “But we send these people here to help us.

“I’d like them to get together, settle things and (talk about) what’s actually important.”

Needham joined about 80 other county presidents for the Farm Bureau’s annual lobbying trip March 9-11.

Productivity. After three years of disagreement over a comprehensive energy bill, legislators were hopeful a measure would finally be signed into law last year.

But with a high price tag and last-minute provisions, the bill faced another deadlock in November.

U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine acknowledged the importance of getting an energy bill passed, but told Ohio Farm Bureau leaders it probably won’t happen this year.

It will not be a productive year in Congress, DeWine admitted. But he said he will do everything he can to get the bill moving, especially with an ethanol provision to help farmers.

The $31 billion bill would reportedly double the amount of corn used in ethanol production to 2 billion bushels by 2012.

The boost in ethanol, an additive that helps gas burn cleaner, would be a major advantage for farmers since ethanol is mainly made from corn.

The bill would be the first overhaul of the nation’s energy policy in more than a decade.

Possible passage? DeWine said the only way to get it passed is agreement on a stripped-down, less expensive version of the bill.

A new bill with similar language, but at half the cost, was introduced in February.

The bill, referred to as Energy Lite, would keep the increased use of ethanol but drop a controversial provision to waive liability for manufacturers of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

MTBE is an additive, used to meet the oxygenate requirement, that has contaminated drinking water.

The last-minute Republican-introduced MTBE provision created November’s deadlock between Senate Republican and Democratic leaders.

Highway hassles. Another piece of ethanol legislation with a “murky future” is the highway bill, DeWine said.

Ohio is penalized because it uses ethanol-blended fuel and the state loses $160 million a year in highway taxes because of it, said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.

To Farm Bureau’s satisfaction, the Senate’s $318 billion highway bill for the next six years would address this by offering ethanol tax credits.

But there’s no guarantee this bill will make it to law either.

The Senate’s bill is $62 billion more than the Bush administration’s cap of $256 billion. The House’s version of the transportation bill is even more expensive than the Senate’s.

The highway bill is “floundering,” according to Terry McNaughton, legislative aide to Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio.

Everyone agrees the transportation bill is necessary, but no one agrees on the cost, he told Farm Bureau leaders.

Debate centers around whether to increase federal gasoline taxes to pay for the high-cost bills. The Bush administration, however, has already indicated it would advise the president to veto a bill if it raises taxes or shifts budget allocations to the Highway Trust Fund.

McNaughton said he expects a bill to be passed this year, it’s just a matter of when.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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