Recent Op-Eds

The peak summer driving season may be over, but concerns about fuel prices, energy supplies, and greenhouse gas emissions remain a part of our national debate. While Congress's consideration of new energy legislation is important, there are many policies already in place that are shaping the future of renewable energy today. Homegrown biofuels can be a significant part of our energy solution and there are programs in place to help spur their development, but there are also government roadblocks that need to be addressed.

Last year's Farm Bill included the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which I spearheaded to help our nation's producers transition to second generation biofuels made from non-food crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently started implementing the program, which makes matching per-ton payments for the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of renewable biomass crops delivered and sold to a refinery or bioenergy plant. In the near future, BCAP will make per-acre payments to farmers who grow non-edible energy dedicated crops. There are currently nine USDA-approved facilities participating in the program, with more to follow soon.

South Dakota is in a unique position to capitalize on BCAP. The prairie grasses that grow in abundance in our state have great energy potential. So do the corn cobs and wood chips that can be easily collected from our farms and forests. I recently toured a test farm plot and laboratory at South Dakota State University where researchers are making important breakthroughs in refining prairie grasses into renewable fuels.

At a Senate Agriculture Committee Field Hearing in Sioux City, Iowa in August I voiced my concerns about the hurdles that biofuels must still overcome. I am deeply concerned with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to measure the carbon footprint of ethanol and biodiesel using indirect land use calculations. This means that biofuel producers in America would be given a higher carbon score because of potential land use decisions in other countries. Effectively, biofuels produced in the U.S. would been determined to be "dirtier" than gasoline or diesel, which would disqualify them from meeting the requirements of the Renewable Fuels Standard. Earlier this year introduced legislation to prevent EPA from using these calculations.

Equally detrimental is the definition of renewable biomass that was added at the last minute to the 2007 Energy Bill, which prevents fuels refined from national forest wood waste from counting toward the Renewable Fuels Standard requirement. Turning wood waste from national forests into ethanol reduces the fire and beetle threat while creating economic opportunity for the surrounding area. I am committed to changing the definition of renewable biomass to include forest byproducts.

South Dakota has benefited from the first wave of biofuel production, and there is reason for great optimism with second generation biofuels. Through BCAP, our state can use non-edible crops to help meet our nation's energy needs. As the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Energy Subcommittee, I will continue working in a bipartisan manner to promote biofuels and protect them from misguided environmental activism.