January 31, 2006- Introduction of H.R. 4673, the "Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act"
"Mr. Speaker, we have an opportunity to change fundamentally the relationship of the United States to energy in a way that helps the consumer, reduces pollution, reduces greenhouse gases, and reduces the need to use military force to protect oil fields in countries thousands of miles from our shores. Nearly 70 percent of all the oil we use is consumed by the transportation sector, so we must look for alternatives to imported oil for fueling our cars and trucks. Today, advances in the production of ethanol – the refining of starch, sugar and cellulose into auto fuel -- have reached the point where we have an opportunity to make a huge difference in opening up the market for alternatives to gasoline. Now is the time to be bold.
The powerful promise of ethanol to dramatically reduce foreign oil imports has just been demonstrated by Brazil. As a result of its ethanol production and technological development, Brazil has cut its dependence on foreign oil from about 80 percent in the 1970’s to nearly zero today -- despite being the tenth largest energy consumer in the world. Ethanol now accounts for 20% of Brazil’s transportation fuel – we should be able to do that here.
The ethanol that the U.S. currently produces – 3.4 billion gallons in 2004, or the equivalent of 250,000 barrels of oil a day – is made from corn. Producing ethanol from corn has been tremendously successful in the Midwest and now we must look to replicate that success all across the country, even in places where corn doesn’t grow. There is great potential in ethanol refined from sources of cellulose, which are abundant and widely available in every corner of America. Experts tell us that biomass as diverse as switchgrass, sawgrass, tree bark, or wastes such as sawdust, paper pulp or sugar cane waste could now be turned into ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol holds incredible potential – by many estimates, the ability to replace 1-2 million barrels of oil a day or nearly the amount of oil that we consume from the Middle East.
But cellulosic ethanol can be derived not just from new crops grown in the farm belt, but also the waste streams of every city and village in urban and suburban America. Right now this surplus cellulose is being trucked to a landfill at great cost. But this so-called “waste stream” is actually the potential backbone of an alternative auto fuel. Turning cellulosic waste into ethanol would also have the virtue of helping to relieve the immense pressure in urban areas on landfills while also producing a protein rich animal food.
We need to make ethanol a national program here as Brazil has done. Right now ethanol is a boutique fuel for the Midwest that is not widely be used in the urban areas on our coasts because the costs of transporting it there make it uneconomic. We need to give every region of our country an ability to produce and use ethanol. We need to give every sector of industry a stake in developing ethanol from the byproducts produced at plants in urban areas.
Right now, there are nearly five million vehicles already on the road in the U.S. that are capable of running on E85, a fuel mix that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Recently, automakers such as Ford and GM have announced plans to ramp up production of flex-fuel vehicles, planning to produce a combined 650,000 such vehicles in 2006. Making vehicles that are capable of running on 85 percent ethanol is also not significantly more expensive than making cars that run on gas only. Right now, vehicles that have flex-fuel models retail for the same prices as their gas-only counterparts.
Today, I am introducing the “Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act” – legislation mandating that within ten years all cars, trucks and SUV’s sold in the United States be flex-fuel vehicles, capable of running on gasoline, ethanol or a combination of both. This legislation would also gradually phase out the so-called “dual fuels loophole” over a four year period – expiring roughly around the year 2010, when the credit is currently set to expire under the Energy Bill passed last year. This phase out will ensure that as we move forward as a nation towards using these new fuels, we do not inadvertently move backwards in overall fuel economy standards for our nation’s fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs.
Mandating that U.S. cars be capable of running on ethanol will spur the development of these new cellulosic ethanols and improve technology for producing ethanol from corn. We are a technological giant and we must develop fuels for the future for our transportation sector if we ever want to replace our dependence on oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide relief to American consumers from high gas and energy prices.
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