ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. – Pa. Gov. Edward Rendell makes no bones about it: He wants Pennsylvania to lead the country in developing renewable fuels. And he wants to do it now.
Rendell found a supportive audience at last week’s Ag Progress Days, where more than 800 people gathered to hear the governor speak at the invitation-only Government and Industry Day luncheon.
Economic key. Brushing aside worries that Pennsylvania is a corn-deficit state, Rendell said he wants the commonwealth to be the top state in production of alternative, renewable fuels.
“In the next 25 years, economic viability will be determined by who gets in the forefront of alternative energy,” Rendell said.
“It’s where the money is, it’s where we need to be.”
Corn prices move on a national, not local, market, he said in response to livestock producers’ concerns about rising feed costs because of the ethanol demand. There will be the same movement in the corn market whether Pennsylvania produces ethanol or not.
Pushing Pa. fuels. Rendell asked for support for his PennSecurity Fuels Initiative, which includes an investment of $30 million in the production and infrastructure development of alternative fuels.
The initiative also calls for 1 billion gallons of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel sold at Pa. pumps – replacing an amount equivalent to what the state is expected to import from the Persian Gulf 10 years from now.
By the end of the year, Rendell said, Pennsylvania is expected to have an annual production of more than 60 million gallons of biodiesel, with more than 170 million gallons in production by the end of 2009.
Likewise, when the state’s five ethanol plants currently under construction come on line, Pennsylvania will have production capacity of 340 million gallons per year.
“We’ve got to become energy self-sufficient,” Rendell said. “It’s key to our economy.”
Bond issue. But while the governor receives gold stars for his rhetoric, support is mixed for his proposed $850 million energy-independence bond issue, funded by a utility-usage surcharge of about 45 cents a month for residential customers and $300 per year for businesses, with a $10,000 cap for industries.
The proposal was part of the state’s budget debate that was shelved to move budget discussions, but Rendell has called a special legislative session on energy Sept. 17 to bring the issue back to the table.
Farm bill update. In addition to the governor, the Ag Progress Days luncheon drew the two U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey. Both addressed with the pending farm bill in the Senate.
Specter was unapologetic for not voting for the 2002 farm bill, saying “it was very heavily tilted toward subsidies.”
This time around, Specter said, the farm bill must better fit the diversity of Pennsylvania agriculture.
Casey, a first-term Democrat, agreed with his Republican counterpart, and said the new farm bill must acknowledge “regional equities.”
The Senate ag committee member said Pennsylvania is an underserved state in terms of crop insurance, conservation program funding and commodity program funding. The next farm bill must shift priorities from Midwestern grains to varied interests so support is more equitable, Casey said, “so the people of Pennsylvania get what they deserve.”
Casey is working on adding a specialty crop title to the Senate version of the farm bill. He also outlined his other farm bill priorities for the Ag Progress Days crowd: farmland preservation; additional funding for Chesapeake Bay conservation/cleanup efforts; increased funding for food stamps; and renewable fuels.
“We’re going to work to get it right this time,” Casey said.
Also attending. The luncheon lineup also included state Attorney General Tom Corbett; state Sen. Mike Brubaker and state Rep. Mike Hanna.
Brubaker and Hanna are chairs of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees in their respective chambers.
Penn State University President Graham Spanier and Robert Steele, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, also spoke. U.S. Rep. John Peterson also attended.
Also on Aug. 15 at Ag Progress Days, the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and the House Education Committee held a joint town meeting to address agricultural education and careers.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at email@example.com.)