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Posted on  

June 11, 2003


For decades the cry from the corn belt states has been that if America wants to wean itself from a dependence on foreign oil it needs only to look to its amber waves of grain for a solution. Congress is finally listening.

The Senate last week approved an amendment to the energy bill requiring gasoline refiners to double their use of corn-based ethanol. It is a plan that is good for the environment overall and a boost for Illinois farmers specifically. It is also one that has been a long time coming.

The measure mandates an increase in the production of ethanol to at least 5 billion gallons annually by 2012. That translates to cleaner burning fuels and is expected to pump an additional $375 million into Illinois farm economy alone.

Illinois is the largest producer and consumer of ethanol. Last year alone 290 million bushels of corn were converted into 754 million gallons of the gasoline supplement. The state has five ethanol plants with three under construction.

The increased use of ethanol is projected to raise corn prices by almost 25 cents per bushel based on last year's rate. The fluctuation of a few cents per bushel can make or break many farmers who have endured a flat market for many years. This measure should help reinvigorate that market.

As much as the Senate's approval will be a windfall for Illinois farmers, it is also sound energy policy. Americans awakened to just how vulnerable its energy supply was during the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.

The country vowed at the time to never again be held hostage to the whims of an oil cartel. But in almost 30 years the United States has not moved with speed to develop alternative energy sources on a mass scale. In fact, we've gone to war and American lives have been lost over oil since then.

A greater reliance on domestically-produced ethanol is a significant move toward unshackling us from the grip of foreign oil producers. Still, more needs to be done.

With the same enthusiasm the Senate has shown for ethanol, other renewable fuels have to be blended into the mix of our energy resources. The country has dabbled with developing alternative fuels for years. It is now time to get serious.

In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush took many by surprise by calling for a push to develop hydrogen fuel cells to power our motor vehicles. No one thought something like this would be top of mind with oilman Bush.

But Bush's message was clear -- we need more alternative energy sources. The Senate did its part last week by approving the ethanol initiative. We encourage it, as well as the House, to work with diligence to expand this policy.



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