SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- A comprehensive energy bill requiring the use of more "biofuels" such as plant-based ethanol should be ready to be sent to the Senate floor early this summer, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee said in a letter to an agricultural association.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told the National Grain Sorghum Producers annual conference that the bill would include provisions that would increase the amount of ethanol used in the nation's fuel supply.
"I believe the time is right for the expanded use of biofuels," Domenici said in his Feb. 17 letter to the association. "America is dangerously dependent on foreign oil. We are paying $35 a barrel for crude oil -- more than double what we were paying last year. This hefty price has driven up the price of gasoline."
Ethanol is made primarily from corn, although it can also be produced from sorghum and sugar cane as well. It is used in some areas of the nation as an oxygenate, an additive that causes gasoline to burn cleaner and with fewer polluting emissions.
Another oxygenate, the petrochemical MTBE, is being phased out in some states, including California, due to concerns about groundwater contamination and studies that have linked MTBE to some cancers. The Fuels Security 2003 bill introduced this month by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., seeks a nationwide ban on MTBE and a tripling of the use of ethanol and other biofuels.
Domenici told the sorghum group that he had heard concerns that there might not be enough ethanol available to make the switch without sharp increases in gasoline prices.
"I think those concerns can be resolved this year," he said.
The ethanol industry said at its annual meeting this week in Arizona that it had produced a record 2.13 billion gallons of the gasoline additive in 2002 and should be capable of reaching the 3 billion mark this year.
The Renewable Fuels Association said in its annual Ethanol Industry Outlook that another 11 processing plants were under construction in the United States and that they would increase the industry's total capacity by yet another 300,000 gallons annually.
"I can report with confidence that the state of the ethanol industry is sound," said RFA President Bob Dineen. "We are buoyed by the enthusiasm of new production, steeled by the technical and market challenges of the past year and prepared to meet the legislative and commercial agenda ahead."
(Reported by Hil Anderson, UPI Chief Energy Correspondent)