SIKESTON -- After a nearly week-long debate, the energy bill that could boost the potential of corn-based ethanol production in Missouri and other Midwestern states was blocked from a final vote in the Senate last week.
Proponents fell two votes short of forcing an end to debate on the bill. Opponents threatened a filibuster, and Republican leaders needed 60 votes under the Senate's rules to close off debate and pass the bill. The official tally was 57-40.
Charles Kruse, Missouri Farm Bureau president and Dexter farmer, remains confident the bill will pass. "Overall this is something we've been trying to push as hard as we can to get passed," Kruse said. "It means a tremendous amount for Missouri agriculture."
Missouri is a leading ethanol-producing state. Its main crops are soybeans and corn; the Show-Me State produced 283 million bushels of corn and 170 million bushels of soybeans in 2002.
Passed in the House early last week, the bill contains hundreds of items sought by energy lobbyists, including tax breaks for oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries, plus tax credits for renewable energy and conservation. The bill creates a Renewable Fuels Standard that will grow ethanol use from 3. 1 billion gallons in 2005 to 5 billion gallons in 2012.
Kruse said the energy bill is a positive because it goes beyond the state. "This is something we think is extremely important," he said. "When you think about it, the energy bill lessens our dependence on foreign oil and the total use of ethanol increases farm income and renewable energy sources in our own country."
Midwestern states like Iowa and Illinois and Southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas are among the many that will also benefit if the bill passes, Kruse pointed out. There's a positive impact from an environmentalist standpoint, too, Kruse commented, referring to cleaner air that would come with ethanol use. "I can't see how there can be any losers," he said.
However, some senators don't share Kruse's sentiment since a particular target Friday was a provision that would shield manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE from product liability lawsuits.
A growing number of Democrats, with at least six Republicans, criticized the legislation, say it cost too much, would dole out billions of dollars to special interests and would hurt the environment.
"I think there's some concern on the east and west coasts about the bill costing their consumers more," noted David Dunlap, Southeast Missouri district sales manager for MFA Oil.
Gasoline with 10 percent ethanol is available at all MFA Oil bulk plants, many Break Time convenience stores and most MFA Oil service stations so the fuel is available in the area, Dunlap said.
According to the Missouri Corn Growers Association, the bill could increase U.S. farm net income by $4.5 billion and add as much as 30 cents per bushel to the price of corn. In Missouri, the bill is expected to double the amount of corn used for ethanol production to over 15 percent.
An increase in production can also mean an increase in ethanol plants. And if Southeast Missouri farmers are doubting the possibility of an ethanol plant being built in the Bootheel, Kruse said they shouldn't.
"There has been a lot of interest in the Bootheel, and one of the things you have to have in locating ethanol is corn -- and there's a lot of corn in Southeast Missouri so I certainly think it's a possibility," Kruse said.
Dunlap pointed out there's been talk of putting an ethanol plant in Malden in the near future.
Even if a plant isn't built in the area, the more corn used in this country to produce ethanol is a positive for everybody, Kruse said. It increases demand for corn usage, and it's the same with soybeans and biodiesel, he said.
Dunlap also said he thinks there's a good chance the bill will pass.
"We know it will be good for our farmers," Dunlap said. "We support the energy bill and its incentives for ethanol and biodiesel."
The bill's provisions include tax breaks of $13 billion for oil, gas and coal industries, and $5.5 billion for renewable energy sources; and tax incentives for improving energy efficiency of homes and appliances, including a tax credit for buying hybrid gas-electric cars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.