Senator John ThuneI have been frustrated by the lack of progress under Democratic leadership in the U.S. Congress all year on legislation especially important for South Dakota and the nation. Countless hours have been spent engaged in partisan wrangling while the Farm Bill and Energy Bill remained stalled.
Last week, however, marked a significant victory for the American people; the legislative logjam broke which resulted in passage of an Energy Bill and a Farm Bill, both of which will have a major beneficial impact on South Dakota.
The Energy Bill includes a landmark provision that will enhance the South Dakota ethanol industry more than ever before with an increased renewable fuels standard (RFS). The increased RFS included in the Energy Bill is the result of months of hard work. Without an increased RFS, South Dakota's ethanol industry would have faced an unnecessary setback. This is an important victory for South Dakota's renewable fuels industry, as well as families across the nation whose pocketbooks are being emptied by high fuel prices.
Coincidentally, a new study from the American Coalition for Ethanol demonstrated that increasing the percentage of ethanol in commercial gasoline can increase fuel economy and reduce harmful emissions.
The increased RFS requires refiners to blend 9 billion gallons of ethanol into our fuel supply in 2008. The new standard increases ethanol usage to 15 billion gallons by 2015 - more than doubling the current production of corn-based ethanol. Beyond 2015, the new RFS calls for the production of 36 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. Twenty-one billion gallons must be cellulosic ethanol, which is made from energy-dedicated crops such as woodchips and switchgrass. In total, this bill calls for a five-fold increase in ethanol production over the next 15 years.
The 2007 Farm Bill is another big winner for South Dakota. Our state's economy is built around agriculture, and this bill will help strengthen family farms and ranches and rural communities. This bill builds on the successful 2002 Farm Bill and makes great strides and also advances renewable fuels production as well.
An important component of this Farm Bill is the permanent disaster program. This program would provide $5 billion in timely assistance to both crop and livestock producers when losses occur due to natural disasters. It has not made sense to keep creating ad hoc disaster assistance programs every year.
For example, South Dakota producers who suffered losses in 2005, still have not been paid for their losses under an ad hoc disaster program Congress approved last May. Instead, $5 billion will be set aside and permanent disaster policy put in place which will effectively and timely assist farmers and ranchers when natural disasters occur. Eligibility for assistance under the Disaster Title requires that a producer participate in crop insurance, which will strengthen the crop insurance program and encourage producers to better manage their risk. The House did not include a permanent disaster program in its version of the Farm Bill, so it is very important that this Senate disaster program survive the conference committee.
I want to share with South Dakotans my relief that these two important pieces of legislation were completed in the Senate before Christmas. It is my hope that this spirit of working to get things done stays with the Senate beyond the holidays and that we can return next year to keep South Dakota and America moving forward.