Senator John ThuneI recently had the opportunity to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new ethanol plant in Loomis-yet another impressive addition to South Dakota's budding alternative fuels industry. The remarkable progress our state has made in the renewable energy arena has helped to transform South Dakota's agriculture industry and given our family farmers a market to sustain and enhance their way of life.
In Congress, I have been working on ways to continue the growth of South Dakota's alternative fuels industry, which will ultimately have a positive impact on our state's economy, our farmers and American consumers across the country.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have stressed the need to enhance renewable energy research and provide consumers with more diverse energy options so America can become less dependent on foreign sources of oil. However, for the past four months I've met resistance with some Senate Democrat colleagues on a measure that would greatly increase access to ethanol, biodiesel and other home-grown renewable fuels for all Americans.
The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Grant Program, which I introduced with Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and other Republicans and Democrats, would provide grants (up to $30,000) to gas stations owners for the installation of alternative fuel pumps. These additional pumps would give consumers greater opportunities to opt for cleaner, American-grown sources of energy, including E-85 ethanol, compressed natural gas, bio-diesel, hydrogen and other alternative fuels.
Our nation's automakers have put more than 9 million alternative fuel vehicles on the road - close to 6 million of which are flex fuel vehicles that can run on E-85 ethanol or gasoline.
The missing link? Availability. Out of 180,000 independently owned gas stations, just over 1,000 of them (less than 1 percent) offer alternative fuels such as E-85 ethanol. The Alternative Fuel Grant Program would address this serious gap in the distribution system. The legislation has wide bipartisan support in the Senate; was cleared by the relevant Senate committees; overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 355 - 9; and enjoys the support of the nation's leading automakers, agriculture groups, and alternative energy organizations.
Despite this widespread support, one or more Democrat Senators have placed an anonymous hold on this non-controversial bill, which prevents the full Senate from passing this common-sense legislation. With the backing of nearly every Democrat in the House, a majority of Democrats in the Senate, and countless renewably energy and agriculture groups, it leaves me to believe the hold-up of the Alternative Fuel Grant Infrastructure Program is purely politically motivated.
With the election season behind us, the time for partisan politics has passed, and the time for progress is now. However, it seems this bill will not be able to be sent to the President until next year at the earliest because of these secret holds on this common-sense, bipartisan legislation.
I hope my colleagues will drop their objections when I reintroduce this bill next Congress, so this measure can become law and consumers and producers can begin to enjoy the benefits of more home-grown renewable fuels.