For all her much-told potential, ethanol is still not the Cinderella of the Energy Ball. Farm state lawmakers and agricultural interests say President Bush's recently announced energy policy leaves the prettier step-daughter without a good chance to try on the glass slipper.
In the meantime, a push in California to eliminate all requirements for oxygenates, or oxygen additives, in motor fuel threatens to turn the splendid coach back into just another hydrocarbon pumpkin. The Clinton administration in 1999 had given a boost to prospects for increased ethanol production in a proposal to replace methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) with ethanol as an approved oxygenate.
Interests in California and in other intensely urbanized areas say ethanol is no better than petroleum-based MTBE in eliminating air pollution or protecting water supplies, and, in any event, will only raise energy prices. They want to be rid of both oxygenates.
In mid-May, Bush began an intensive campaign to sell to Congress and the nation his plan for developing new sources of energy, but farm critics have been quick to complain the proposed initiatives too much favor Mother Fossil and her two ugly daughters, Gas and Oil.
Actually, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, S.D., an ethanol and biodiesel proponent, sees a third ugly step-sister. With energy vs. environment rhetoric as partisan as a Saturday afternoon collegiate football game, Daschle says, “GOP seems to stand for gas, oil and plutonium.”
Bush, in fact, chose a Pennsylvania hydroelectric power plant as a podium for pushing his plan for environmentally friendly energy, but his detractors couldn't resist the unintended opportunity: His proposals, they say, actually favor the likes of the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear plant. A nuclear meltdown in 1979 almost destroyed that plant and unleashed radiation into the atmosphere and intensified anti-nuclear sympathies in the energy-environment debate.
As a short-term response to the nation's energy crisis, Bush favors increased nuclear-energy production as well as stepped-up output from the nation's oil refineries. Again, critics say his short-term solution for the nation's current energy crisis, including tapping Arctic oil reserves, doesn't offer any long-term relief to fossil fuel depletion and dependence on imported petroleum.
Farm leaders and legislators say Bush's proposals put too much emphasis on traditional energy sources and not enough on renewable sources — notably corn-based ethanol and biodiesel, which is processed from soybeans.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said he appreciated the president's attempt to lower energy costs, but he also said more needs to be said “about the role ethanol and other farm-grown renewable energy will play.”
He said consumers “want a reliable energy supply. They want energy that helps improve air quality and increase our energy independence. All these needs can be satisfied with the help of America's agricultural producers and the clean-burning energy we help create.”
The American Soybean Association said it was pleased the Bush administration “recognizes biodiesel for its positive contributions to the nation's energy supply, the environment and the economy.” However, a spokesman said, “The association is disappointed that (the plan) did not contain recommendations that would facilitate increased biodiesel utilization.