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Federal energy bill passes

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

In late July Congress passed a comprehensive energy bill, which was soon thereafter signed by President George W. Bush. The bill’s inclusion of a renewable fuels standard will increase the use of farm products from corn and soybeans to hay, straw and animal waste.

“This energy bill will strengthen rural communities by providing economic development opportunities in rural America and it also moves us the right direction as a nation in decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President John Stencel.

The 7.5 billion gallon mandate the U.S. House and Senate agreed upon will more than double the production and use of domestic renewable fuels including ethanol, biodiesel, and fuels produced from cellulosic biomass.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU), through its national representation at the National Farmers Union, fought hard for provisions in this bill that will increase domestic demand for surplus farm commodities, lower federal outlays of federal farm subsidies, improve the environment, and decrease our reliance on foreign oil.

The bill includes extension of current incentives, as well as new incentives to entities establishing renewable energy production facilities.

It allows cooperatives to elect to pass any portion of the renewable electricity production credit on to their patrons and also allows governmental bodies and mutual or cooperative electric companies to issue tax-saving Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. The bill creates small producer biodiesel and ethanol credits of 10-cents-per-gallon for up to 15 million gallons of agri-biodiesel produced by producers with annual capacity not exceeding 60 million gallons.

“These and many other incentives will make it easy to meet or exceed the national mandate for renewable fuels while decreasing American dependence on foreign oil,” Stencel said.

In 2004, some 3 percent of U.S. gasoline was ethanol. This represents about 10 percent of the average U.S. corn crop. If 30 percent of all U.S. gasoline was ethanol, it would take 100 percent of the corn grown in the United States.

“This energy bill will give the renewable fuels industry the long-term commitment it needs to invest in production of ethanol and other renewable fuel production facilities and technology,” Stencel said. “As renewable fuel becomes an increasingly larger part of the U.S. fuel portfolio, RMFU and National Farmers Union will continue to push for a grain reserve designated for farmer-owned energy production.”

While there is much to celebrate in the new energy bill, National Farmers Union and RMFU will continue to advocate for better environmental policies, something that was—in some cases—overlooked in this bill.

Closer to home, RMFU has joined forces with the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Working Landscapes, and Colorado Environment in the Harvesting Energy Network on this issue. The coalition aims to assist and encourage implementation of Amendment 37 in a way that benefits rural communities and keeps economic benefits from renewable energy development within the state.

“This network wants dollars from renewable energy development to stay in the state,” said Stencel. “We don’t want to see is this mandate being met by corporations that use it to bolster their shareholder returns on Wall Street.”

Amendment 37, which has the goal of having a minimum of 10 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources, was passed by voters last November. Forums focusing on Amendment 37 and highlighting community-based renewable projects have been held in northeast and southwest Colorado. Participating in the forums has been former Colorado Speaker of the House Lola Spradley, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., along with representatives from network groups.

At this printing, similar forums are planned for Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Lamar, Springfield, Trinidad, Alamosa and Canon City.

“These forums provide an excellent opportunity for rural communities, electric cooperatives and public utility companies to share ideas, talk about current projects and network to come up with possible renewable energy development ideas within individual communities,” Stencel said.

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