The Senate passed a bill that would increase the 7.5-billion-gallon renewable fuel standard to 36 billion gallons by 2022 and require the adoption of a number of conservation measures aimed at reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

A number of farm-state senators and farm organizations hailed the legislation, which passed the Senate by a vote of 65-27. But they said more needs to be done to make the U.S. economy more energy self-sufficient.

“This bill encourages the use of domestic sources of energy and will help America look to the farm fields of the Midwest instead of the oil fields of the Mid East,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “While this energy policy provides significant incentives, even more must be done to lessen our nation’s addiction to foreign energy.”

“For far too long we have only talked about our oil addiction and our energy problems,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “With passage of this energy bill, we put those words into action. We move the nation forward with meaningful energy reform and we move rural states like Iowa forward.”

Conrad and Harkin both could find something to like in the energy bill because it contained features of legislation they introduced earlier — Conrad in his BOLD Energy Act and Harkin in the Biofuels Security Act he and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., authored.

The bill the Senate passed June 21, the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, mandates that ethanol production grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Also known as the CLEAN Energy bill, it was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Of those 36 billion gallons, 21 billion gallons are to be derived from advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be developed from grasses native to much of the central and eastern United States. The bill also raises automobile fuel efficiency standards for the first time in decades.

The legislation could have gone further to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy, said Conrad, but a group of senators blocked a vote on a package of incentives to spur the production of more renewable fuels such as wind power and advanced biofuels.

“No one should be under the illusion that we are not going to revisit this issue,” said Conrad. “I will do everything I can to make sure we get another opportunity to further increase domestic energy production and bring even greater economic security to our nation.”

The National Corn Growers Association noted that 15 billion gallons of the 36 billion gallons in renewable fuels are slated to come from corn-based ethanol, the alternative fuel most commonly used by motorists today.

“The Senate bill supports NCGA’s plan for rational ethanol growth,” said NCGA First Vice President Ron Litterer. “We have long supported a vision of producing 15 billion bushels of corn, which would allow for the production of 15 billion gallons of ethanol while continuing to satisfy our other markets. We think this can happen by 2015.”

Besides the increase in the renewable fuel standard, the bill calls for:

• Studies on the feasibility of ethanol pipelines, higher blend levels and the optimization of flex fuel vehicles;

• A 20 percent greenhouse gas reduction standard for conventional biofuels that allows existing plants to be grandfathered in to the law;

• Establishment of a 50 percent GHG reduction standard for advanced biofuels;

• Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobiles to increase to 35 miles per gallon by 2020;

• Establishes a goal of increasing the nation’s flexible fuel vehicle fleet by 50 percent;

• Studies relating to the impacts of expansion of biofuels production on various industrial sectors, as well as an environmental impact study.

Harkin agreed with Conrad that the bill doesn’t go far enough in addressing the total energy needs of the nation at a time when it imports 60 percent of its oil supplies from foreign countries, not all of which are friendly to the United States.

“The bill doesn’t have everything we wanted, but it does move us forward in a way that exceeds the efforts of the energy bill passed in 2005,” he said. “It raises highway mileage standards for the first time since the mid 1980s — nearly two decades after today’s standards took effect.

“The bill has a whole range of energy efficiency provisions, aimed at lighting, at appliances, at buildings, and at energy use in public facilities at the federal and state and local levels. And it gives us something to build on in the 2007 farm bill my committee is at work crafting.”

“Our dependence on foreign energy threatens both our national security and our economic security,” said Conrad. “Unless we change course, we will become even more dependent on foreign energy sources and subject to even higher prices and uncertainty.”

The National Corn Growers say it is confident growers can produce 15 billion bushels of corn by 2015, which would allow the production of 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol without affecting other corn markets.

A wide variety of feedstocks will be needed to satisfy the bill’s long-term biofuels goals, said NCGA President Ken McCauley, and corn growers are supportive of developing viable markets for cellulosic feedstocks.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com