Historic RFS establishes S.D. as leader in national energy policy

Historic RFS establishes S.D. as leader in national energy policy
This week, the House of Representatives passed a historic piece of energy legislation called the Energy Independence and Security Act. This groundbreaking bill makes several important changes crucial to putting our country on the path to energy independence, such as increasing the renewable fuels standard, mandating more fuel-efficient vehicles and increasing the amount of electricity that must come from renewable sources like wind.

Reforming our nation's approach to energy production is more than a technological challenge; it is a tremendous opportunity for our state. Like most South Dakotans, I strongly support expanding our commitment to the production and use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Since this Congress convened, I've been working on securing passage of a new and more aggressive renewable fuels standard, and I am pleased to report that this bill includes an unprecedented new commitment to clean, renewable energy that we can produce here at home.

Specifically, the bill requires that we as a country produce at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by the year 2022 – a significant increase in both quantity and years compared to the current requirement calling for 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. And it's important to note that the bill we passed provides for a particularly aggressive standard in the early years of the bill, calling for the use of 9 billion gallons by 2008 – an increase I specifically helped negotiate along with Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota. The bill further includes a separate carve-out requirement for 1 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2012 – the first-ever such standard for biodiesel – recognizing the growing role oilseed producers in South Dakota and across the country must play in our energy future.

The structure of this new, higher standard ensures that South Dakota will continue to be among the national leaders in the production of renewable fuels using conventional methods, but it also will drive the development of new and more efficient processes to turn South Dakota's natural abundance into energy for the whole country.

Given the unique contributions our agricultural producers are ready, willing and able to make toward meeting our nation's energy needs, this new and historic commitment to renewable biofuels is a clear – and significant – victory for South Dakota's energy and ag economy. We have long played a prominent role in the production of renewable biofuels, and now South Dakota is even better positioned to emerge as a leading force in our national energy policy.

Increasing the amount of renewable fuels produced in our country is only one part of the multifaceted plan to achieve energy independence. We must also focus our attention on ways in which we can make the current technologies we use in our daily lives more energy-efficient and, in the process, save hard-working South Dakota families money at the pump. With this goal in mind, this bill includes an increase in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard, or CAFE, to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 for new cars and trucks, the first increase since 1975 – more than 30 years ago.

By requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets, American families will save as much as $1,000 per year at the pump, with $22 billion in net consumer savings in 2020 alone. In addition to that tremendous cost savings, the bill will reduce oil consumption by 1.1 million gallons per day in 2020 – one-half of what we currently import from the Persian Gulf – and reduce greenhouse gases equal to taking 28 million of today's average cars and trucks off the road. Importantly, the bill continues to recognize the difference between smaller passenger cars and those trucks and higher horsepower vehicles that farmers and ranchers need to run their operations.

Our legislation also includes a Renewable Electricity Standard, or RES, which would require 15 percent of electricity generated in this country target to come from new renewable sources by 2020. That presents an important and unprecedented opportunity for South Dakota, where we have been blessed with abundant natural sources of renewable energy, particularly from wind.

This requirement will provide the incentive needed to drive increased wind infrastructure in South Dakota as we continue our efforts to become a national leader in this area. Unfortunately, it appears as though this specific provision has met opposition in the Senate, but I will continue to advocate for its passage in 2008.

Adoption of the provisions within this landmark legislation will provide tremendous benefits, not only to the economies of South Dakota's small towns and rural areas, but to the future of our nation. By focusing on increasing domestic production and lowering consumption, we enhance our national security by decreasing our dependence on foreign oil from countries whose national interests are often hostile to our own.

Americans can send our energy dollars to rural economies in the Midwest instead of unstable and often unfriendly regimes in the Middle East. With all of the potential benefits stemming from this legislation, I hope my colleagues in the Senate will act quickly to get this bill to the president for his signature.

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