Senate Passage of Energy Bill Boosts Chances for Biofuels and Greater Energy Security

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28, 2005) -- The U.S. Senate today voted 85-12 to pass comprehensive energy legislation that could dramatically expand production of ethanol made not only from grain but also from agricultural wastes such as corn stover or wheat straw with the help of new biotechnology enzymes. Among other things, the legislation would require U.S. gasoline suppliers to blend 8 billion gallons of ethanol annually into the domestic fuel supply by 2012.

At the last minute, the Senate also adopted major portions of a bill recently introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) that adds even more support for biofuels and biobased products. The Harkin-Lugar amendment creates greater incentives for bioethanol and biobased plastics production from crop biomass and provides funding for research and development of new biotech enzymes. Specifically, it would establish a reverse auction for the production of the first billion gallons of ethanol made from cellulose-containing crop wastes instead of grain and explicit extension of the federal biobased purchasing preference to cover federal government contractors.

Energy legislation that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year does not include these provisions, although it, too, supports renewable energy with a renewable fuels standard. A House-Senate leadership conference will draft a final version of the bill to be voted on by both chambers.

“We will work closely with our allies in the environmental and agricultural communities to reach out to conference leaders and ensure the strongest possible bioenergy provisions are in the final bill,” said Brent Erickson, BIO’s executive vice president for industrial and environmental biotechnology. “These measures are a big step toward enhancing our national security by providing incentives for energy from ‘tilling, not drilling.’”

“Recent breakthroughs in biotechnology are going to allow us to produce more ethanol right here at home than we ever thought possible,” Erickson added. “We could be producing up to 25 percent of our transportation fuel needs by combining biotechnology and agriculture to produce bioethanol in the not-too-distant future, and this energy bill will be a big stimulus to help us meet that goal.”

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.