Senator John ThuneI have long been concerned about our nation's overdependence on foreign sources of energy-much of which comes from countries rife with political unrest and anti-American sentiment. Take for example the nation of Venezuela, whose leader Hugo Chavez has suggested the United States was behind the September 11th attacks, has discussed combining several of South America's largest armies to counter U.S. influence, and has called the United States the "greatest threat" to the world. America currently imports 1 million barrels of oil a day from Venezuela and this kind of dependence on a nation whose leader has an open hatred against America is foolish and dangerous.
Because of instabilities in countries such as Venezuela, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make a shift to home-grown renewable fuels like E-85 ethanol and bio-diesel. In the Senate, I have stressed the importance of making this transition with my colleagues and have worked on several initiatives that I believe will greatly increase the research, production, and use of alternative energy.
In last year's comprehensive energy bill, I worked to include a 7.5-billion gallon annual Renewable Fuel Standard to greatly increase renewable fuel production. The Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency recently said it is expected that an excess of 4.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels will be used in the U.S. this year, and that we are well on our way to meeting or exceeding our 7.5-billion annual goal by 2012.
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 800 of them (less than 1 percent) offer alternative fuels such as E-85 ethanol.
I have introduced a bill called the Alternative Fuel Grant Program with Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) that would address this serious gap in the distribution system. Specifically, the legislation would provide grants (up to $30,000) to gas station owners across the country for the installation of alternative fuel pumps, at no expense to the taxpayer-giving consumers greater opportunities to opt for fuels such as E-85 ethanol, compressed natural gas, bio-diesel and other alternative fuels. Our legislation has wide bipartisan support in the Senate; was cleared by the relevant Senate committees; overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives; and enjoys the support of the nation's leading automakers, agriculture groups, and alternative energy organizations.
However, one or more Democrat Senator(s) have placed an anonymous hold on this non-controversial bill, which prevents the full Senate from voting on this common sense legislation. I hope my colleagues will drop their objections, so this measure can become law and consumers and producers can begin to enjoy the benefits of renewable fuels.
America is approaching a critical crossroads in our nation's energy future, and growing momentum is pushing the nation toward alternative energy. Ethanol plants are thriving and new plants are springing up each month (South Dakota is home to 11 plants with five more under construction). American consumers are hungry for a clean, cost-effective alternative to gasoline as they see the wavering reliability of foreign oil.
As the leading state in farmer-owned ethanol plants, and the fourth largest corn-producing state, South Dakota stands on the cutting edge of this important frontier. I will continue to work to pass this legislation and others like it that will directly benefit South Dakota farmers, our state's alternative fuel industry, and consumers across the country.