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Biodiesel’s bipartisan bandwagon

OLYMPIA – In Washington, an unusual alliance of Seattle-area liberals and Eastern Washington conservatives joined forces this year to push for incentives for alternative-energy projects.

The biggest focus has been on spurring crops and refining for biodiesel, an engine fuel derived from vegetable oils. And although nobody envisions Iowa-style corn farming in Eastern Washington, lawmakers are also adding incentives for ethanol. They’re hoping that “cellulosic” ethanol – derived from wheat straw, sawdust and other wastes – will give a second wave to the ethanol market.

“Instead of handing our wallets to Exxon and the Saudi royal family, let’s give that money to local farmers and create jobs here,” Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, told lawmakers in January.

To encourage in-state production, Washington lawmakers are focusing on three strategies. They’re considering a range of tax breaks to promote research and growth of the fledgling industry. They’re also considering tens of millions of dollars in low-interest loans for oilseed crushers and biodiesel refineries.

The third leg of that stool, however, became the most controversial. To guarantee skeptical farmers a market for the biodiesel, proponents wanted to mandate that every gallon of diesel sold in Washington contain at least 2 percent biodiesel.

“Many farmers have made it clear to me: Create a minimum market, and they will find a way to grow the crops,” Rep. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, said when she first proposed the standard earlier this year.

But many of her fellow farm-belt Republicans balked at that mandate. They worried that the vegetable-oil fuel might clog filters in cold weather or would gel while sitting for months in the storage tanks of emergency backup generators.

The resulting compromise: at least 2 percent of total sales by Washington fuel companies must be biodiesel. But it doesn’t have to be in every gallon.

The measure, Senate Bill 6508, also includes a mandatory 2 percent ethanol in every gallon of gasoline sold. But that’s less controversial, since some fuel companies already routinely blend higher amounts of ethanol into their gas.

Both provisions would take effect by Dec. 1, 2008.

Starting in June 2009, the bill would also require all state agencies to use a minimum of 20 percent biodiesel for their diesel trucks, ferries and equipment.

The House and Senate are still fine-tuning the legislation. Assuming that they agree, the bill will go to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law. Gregoire has repeatedly said that she supports loans for the industry as well as requiring a percentage of alternative fuel sales.


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