Senator John ThuneOur nation stands at an energy crossroads. If we continue down the path we're on, we face an increasingly unstable energy supply that depends chiefly on foreign nations rife with political unrest and anti-American sentiment.
However, if our country can gradually veer off of this dead-end path and embrace a shift toward home-grown, renewable energy, we have the potential of shoring up a reliable energy supply that can power our homes, businesses, and automobiles in a cleaner, more cost-effective way for generations to come.
South Dakotans are ahead of the times. We know first-hand the potential that alternative energy holds, and our state is leading the way in renewable energy production and research. With 12 ethanol plants already in existence and five more under construction or expansion, South Dakota's alternative energy industry and the farmers who supply it stand on the cutting edge of America's energy frontier.
More and more American consumers are beginning to share our state's interest in alternative energy, and our nation's automakers have already placed millions of flex-fuel vehicles on the road today that can run on both E-85 (15 percent gas and 85 percent ethanol) and gasoline. And they have committed to producing more.
The missing link? Accessibility.
While there are millions of alternative fuel vehicles on the road today, less than one percent of gas stations nationwide (approximately 1,000) offer alternative fuels such as E-85 ethanol.
I recently introduced a bipartisan bill called the "Alternative Energy Refueling Systems Act" with Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado that would address this serious gap in the distribution system.
Specifically, the bill would provide grants to gas stations owners across the country for the installation of alternative fuel pumps, giving consumers greater opportunities to fill up with cleaner, American-grown sources of energy. This would also greatly benefit farmers in rural states like South Dakota and create American jobs in the growing alternative fuels industry.
Similar legislation overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last year by a vote of 355 - 9, and this bill also enjoys the support of the nation's leading automakers, agriculture groups, and alternative energy organizations. I'm hopeful my colleagues in the Senate will join me in swiftly passing this legislation.
As South Dakotans keep telling me back home, we cannot continue to look to other countries to meet our energy needs. With increased federal assistance for alternative energy funding, research and exploration, America has the resources and wherewithal to meet its own energy needs. We need to be vigilant in taking steps to increase domestic production and access to alternative fuels.