With the recent passage of a Senate energy bill, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said the legislation is a step toward a cleaner, more diverse U.S. energy policy that would reduce dependence on foreign oil. Pryor was responsible for two amendments in the bill: one related to adoption of alternative fuels and another to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is not perfect, but (the Senate bill) is a good step in the right direction and will help strengthen our economy, environment and national security,” said Pryor.

In his alternative fuels amendment (co-sponsored with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.), Pryor pointed specifically at biodiesel and hythane. His measure requires the Department of Energy, in conjunction with universities throughout the country, to prepare reports evaluating how best to deploy the fuels and create an infrastructure to support their “enormous potential.”

Recently, Pryor spoke with Delta Farm Press about the amendments he sponsored, his views on energy legislation and what he expects when the House and Senate soon begin reconciling their versions of the energy bill. Among his comments:

On hythane…

“Hythane is an interesting fuel, a mix of hydrogen and methane. It’s currently being used in Beijing, China, to run 10,000 city buses. Clearly, it’s a fuel that works.

“I don’t think we use it in the United States. It may be used in a few isolated tasks, but it hasn’t been adopted in a big way.

“Hythane is probably not the fuel of the future for the United States. I don’t see everyone converting to hythane. But it’s a fuel that municipalities, the U.S. Postal Service, Fed Ex — others with large vehicle fleets — may be able to use. It could make a lot of sense.

“The beauty of it is, those Beijing buses are only putting out 5 percent of the greenhouse emissions their diesel counterparts are.”

How did you latch onto hythane?

“That’s just good staff work. I wouldn’t have known about it without good staff.

“(With the amendment), we provided (funds) for studies on hythane and biodiesel. The goal is to produce a roadmap so we can introduce these into the marketplace where they make sense.

“Right now, as producers know, the biodiesel technology seems to be pretty much available. Even so, only a tenth of 1 percent of the diesel in the country is biodiesel.

“So we want this roadmap. Part of that may be marketing, part may be more technology or different blends. But it looks like biodiesel is ready to hit the market. I would hope that in five years we’ll see a dramatic increase in the use of biodiesel. It would be great for our farmers, for lessening our dependence on foreign oil, great for our trade deficit, great for the environment. It’s a winner across the board and it’s something I’ve tried to emphasize in the energy bill.”

What kind of timeframe are you hoping for on (the studies)?

“We’re trying to get this out as quickly as we can. I want to make this information available within a year after the energy bill is signed.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in biodiesel in the agriculture community in Arkansas. And there should be. If we can ever figure out a way to grow our own fuel, that would be huge. And it appears the technology is there to do it. We just need to make sure biodiesel gets the market share it deserves. I’ll do everything I can to promote it.

What about the climate amendment?

“That was a big amendment and it is pretty interesting because it’s a prime example of (bipartisanship). When I ran for the Senate I spoke about taking the best ideas wherever they come from. Chuck (Hagel) and I have been working on this for a while now.

“When the energy bill came along, we felt the Senate wouldn’t support the McCain-Lieberman approach — a cap and trade system — just yet. Cap and trade is what was done with acid rain. How it would work with greenhouse gasses is a cap would be placed. Someone would say, ‘Okay, U.S. economy, this is the cap the entire economy must stay under.’ Then, you set up a trading system where environmental credits can be traded back and forth.

“For example, theoretically, farmers could receive positive greenhouse gas credits. Their crops consume greenhouse gasses and produce oxygen.

“The problem with McCain-Lieberman is you’re harnessing the U.S. economy. It’s a huge policy decision. When you set something like that up, it must be set up properly. The EU has already tried the cap and trade approach. There are lots of indicators that it isn’t working well.

“So, my recommendation on cap and trade — whether McCain-Lieberman (or another) — is to wait another couple of years and get more science under our belt. Hopefully, the Hagel-Pryor initiative will work and then we’ll see where we are.

“Basically what we did with Hagel-Pryor is first we went on record to say, ‘We recognize a global warming/climate change problem.’ Secondly, we set up a system of incentives for industry to go to greener and cleaner technology. That means as industry builds new plants or retro-fits and modifies (existing facilities), tax credits and some guaranteed government loans will be available to defray the costs.

“We think it’s a win/win, a step in the right direction. Some environmentalists believe it doesn’t go far enough. They would say it’s voluntary and won’t work. Well, give it a little time and see if it works. I believe a lot of industry will find the Hagel-Pryor approach very attractive.”

Have (those claiming global warming is “junk science”) been pushed to the side? Are they now believers or do you expect there will be a fight over this when you try to reconcile?

“That’s a good question. I think what you see in D.C. is more of a consensus — and we’re not there totally — than there used to be. That’s because there’s more of a consensus in science. Over the last three years, there’ve been a large number of scientific studies confirming global warming. There are still doubters and naysayers out there. But large numbers of papers and research have been released saying this is for real.

“There are also many anecdotal stories coming out. For example, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska — the most senior Republican in the Senate, who’s very powerful — (has expressed concern) that the permafrost is melting in Alaska. He’s seen that change in the last few years and Alaskans are talking about it.

“Most people would say it’s no longer in the realm of junk science. It may not be crystal clear on how to remedy it, but the scientific weight has tilted the scales.”

How about the reconciliation? Do you expect your amendments will go through untouched or will they be fodder for a fight?

“Both the amendments we’ve talked about aren’t in the House bill. I’ll have to fight for them. I feel both should be in good shape but you never know until conferencing starts. I hope (conferencing) will be under way in earnest (shortly after the July 4 recess) by mid-July.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com