Undermining Nation's Energy Policy with Push for Soy Fuel?
Brasher, Philip, THE JOURNAL RECORD
WASHINGTON -- Government workers were going to show the nation how to drive with less pollution and foreign oil. That was the idea behind requiring federal and state agencies to buy cars that run on natural gas, alcohol and electricity.
But the Clinton administration, under pressure from the farm lobby, is making a move that critics say could undermine that clean- car mandate, an important part of U.S. energy policy.
The Energy Department is considering allowing a new alternative fuel for government vehicles -- a blend of 80 percent diesel and 20 percent "biodiesel," a product of soybeans. The fuel isn't suitable for cars. But agencies that put it in their trucks, buses and heavy equipment could count that toward their quotas for alternative-fuel cars. The move could jump-start the fledgling biodiesel industry and provide a significant new market for the nation's 400,000 soybean growers. It will "stimulate opportunities for volume biodiesel sales like no other single achievement accomplished by our industry to date," says Jeffery Horvath, chief executive officer of the National Biodiesel Board, a promotional group sponsored by soybean growers. Under the federal Energy Policy Act, 75 percent of all new state and federal cars and light trucks, and 90 percent of vehicles used by gas and electric utilities, must be fitted for alternative fuels by 2001. That's expected to put 500,000 additional clean cars on the road. Biodiesel requires none of the engine modifications or storage required for natural gas. But critics say the soy fuel is a poor substitute for energy sources that produce far less pollution. "It really can't be considered a clean fuel," said Roland Hwang, a fuel expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Politics can't supersede the simple laws of chemistry. Eighty percent petroleum is a high petroleum content." In its pure form, biodiesel has little of the soot or other pollutants of conventional diesel. But at a wholesale price of $3 gallon, biodiesel costs more than three times as much as conventional diesel. Even the 20 percent biodiesel blend, known as "B20," costs an extra 45 cents a gallon. …