Ethanol has been all the rage for months. Members of Congress -- especially from farm states -- can't seem to issue enough press releases pledging their devotion to this gasoline alternative.
And yet at the same time, Congress is cutting President Bush's budget request designed to make sure ethanol can be used without unwanted environmental consequences.
Here is how Associated Press spelled it out:
Bills cut funding to boost ethanol
By Associated PressAugust 15, 2006
President Bush has requested $11.4 million for the EPA to implement parts of a federal energy law that includes writing rules for a new renewable fuels standard. It requires refiners to use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol in gasoline annually by 2012.
Spending committees in the House and Senate have recommended only a small percentage of what the president wanted. The bill passed by the House in May recommends $2.4 million; the bill pending on the Senate floor recommends $1.4 million.
EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones says the agency is still analyzing the funding recommendations. Among other things, Jones said, the $11.4 million would be used to:
Develop a renewable fuel standard and do "comprehensive analyses and studies."
Develop a new electronic reporting system to verify compliance.
Begin a study of the emission and air quality changes resulting from the new standards.
"It surely retards the agency's effectiveness in coming up with a comprehensive program," said Charles Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Drevna's group opposed creation of the renewable fuels standard, but it wants it done quickly so refiners know what they are expected to do.
Drevna said his group is particularly worried that, without full funding, the EPA will not be able to study environmental and other effects of increased ethanol use. If the effects of boosting renewable fuel use are not known soon, he said, refiners and their customers could be slapped with additional costs later on.
Environmentalists also worry about the lack of funds.
"It's as if they haven't read their own press releases about the need to promote alternatives to gasoline," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the Washington advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee, said he expects senators to increase the funding to the House amount, $2.4 million, in the House-Senate conference committee.