Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  Senator John Thune today participated in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing on the federal renewable fuels programs. This hearing was held to examine progress regarding the renewable fuels policies that Congress passed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The committee heard testimony from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The hearing focused on the progress of the 7.5 billion-gallon annual Renewable Fuel Standard that Senator Thune championed with the help of EPW Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) in last year's Energy Policy Act. Section 1501 of the Energy Policy Act requires the use of at least 4.0 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2006, increasing to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. According to testimony from William Wehrum, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA, based on data of ethanol use so far in 2006, it is expected that an excess of 4.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels will be used in the U.S. this year.

Senator Thune highlighted South Dakota as a national success story in homegrown energy, noting the fact that South Dakota is home to 10 ethanol plants, with three additional plants under construction. He also noted that South Dakota has the highest number of farmer-owned plants in the U.S. Thune underscored that South Dakota continues to be a leader in cellulosic ethanol research including the work being done at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and South Dakota State University.

Thune also heard from the EPA that they expect to make a final decision by the end of this year on their proposed rule to properly classify ethanol plants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA's proposed rule, which Senator Thune spearheaded with the support of nearly 40 bipartisan colleagues in the House and Senate, would greatly increase domestic ethanol production and provide for more efficient operation of ethanol plants.

"Today's hearing was extremely informative and signaled an increased focus on alternative fuels in Congress, which is beneficial to states like South Dakota that are leading the way in renewable fuel research and production," Thune said. "I was pleased to hear the Renewable Fuel Standard I worked to include in last year's energy bill has been implemented with success and we are well on our way to exceeding this year's goal of using 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel.

"I had the opportunity to tout South Dakota's rapidly growing renewable fuels industry, the skill and competitiveness of our farmers and farmer-owned plants, and the importance of this industry to the growth of our state and national economy. I stressed my commitment to strengthening the technology, production, and availability of renewable fuels like ethanol to advance the American farmer, reduce our dependence on unstable sources of foreign oil, and provide consumers with an affordable, clean alternative energy source."

Senator Thune will also be working this month to gain Senate passage of his bi-partisan legislation to incentivize the installation of alternative fuel tanks at gas stations across the country. Thune's proposal would greatly increase the availability of alternative fuels like E-85 ethanol and biodiesel to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. This legislation would provide grants to gas station owners who opt to install alternative fuel tanks. These grants would be funded by fines paid by foreign automakers who violate CAFE standards, at no expense to the taxpayer. This legislation is currently being held up anonymously by one or more Senate Democrats. A similar bill already passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 355-9.

Excerpts from the EPW hearing:

Question from Senator Thune to Keith Collins, Chief Economist at USDA: "Dr. Collins: There are a number of inaccuracies floating around about the so-called `food vs. fuel' debate. You stated in your testimony that USDA has projected "a farm sector that adjusts fairly readily to higher corn demand." Could you elaborate on USDA's analysis on how growers will continue to supply markets for corn in the future?"

Collins: "Because of rapid growth of ethanol, some people see this as a difficult situation for the corn supply. Agriculture is flexible however. Production is growing by 2 bushels/year and using current CRP acres is a way to make up for the additional needs of corn."

Thune: "Of course we can't take all acreage out of CRP because of the good pheasant hunting in SD, but we could use some of those acres to plant switchgrass."

Collins: "Absolutely. Cellulosic is the release valve for a tight corn market. We need to take a close look at this in the 2007 Farm Bill."