- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

House Democrats said yesterday that the answer to the fuel crisis is growing in the fields of rural America, and they introduced bills to expand production of ethanol.

“We can grow new energy here at home from American farms to American families,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth, South Dakota Democrat.

Democrats on the Rural Working Group introduced bills that call for doubling the percentage of renewable fuels, such as ethanol, sold in the U.S. by 2012 and increasing the percentage of so-called “flex-fuel” cars capable of running partly on ethanol.

The legislation would require that 75 percent of all U.S. cars be flex-fuel models by 2013. Flex-fuel cars would cost the same as regular cars, the Democrats said.

The bills also extend the tax credits for ethanol and biodiesel production through 2015 and increase tax benefits to small ethanol producers. The legislation also boosts incentives for increasing the number of stations that pump ethanol and biodiesel and calls for greater investment in biofuel research.

The goal is to achieve energy independence within a decade and to “send our energy dollars to the Midwest, not the Middle East,” supporters said.

“The answer is right here at home,” said Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union. “Biofuels is not a dream, it’s reality.”

The Democrats said corn, sugar cane, sugar beets and soy beans can be used to produce auto fuel, and balked at President Bush’s call earlier this month to import ethanol.

Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said his state mandates that 10 percent of its fuel come from ethanol. He also recalled driving an alcohol-fueled car decades ago, which Ford sold only outside North America.

“We imported a 100-percent-alcohol Ford Fiesta in 1975 and drove it all over Minnesota,” he said. “People thought we were nuts.”

Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said rural America will provide the home-grown solution to record-high gas prices. “Minnesota will be the Saudi Arabia of America,” he said.

Other alternative energy initiatives have failed in the Republican-controlled House.

“It will happen, and if it doesn’t happen in the next six months, God willing, if we win the House, on the first day of Congress, this will be part of the agenda that we put forth,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “I don’t care who the next president is, he or she will have to do this.”

Republicans pointed out that Democrats voted against a bill in 2004 that would have cut red tape for alternative energy projects.

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