Open Fuel Standard companion bill introduced in Senate

By Holly Jessen | September 28, 2011

Nearly five months after the Open Fuel Standard Act was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., have introduced a companion bill in the Senate. “For too long oil has had a monopoly over transportation fuel and American drivers have had no choice but to pay volatile and elevated prices at the pump,” Cantwell said. “Phasing in vehicles that can run on fuels other than petroleum will allow a whole host of new domestic sources of transportation fuel to come online, which should reduce our dangerous overdependence on foreign oil and help keep American dollars here at home.”

If passed into law, the Open Fuels Standard would require increasing levels of new vehicles manufactured or sold in the U.S. be flex fuel capable, or able to run on mixtures of E85, methanol or other alcohols or liquid fuels. It would start in 2015 with 50 percent and increase to 80 percent by 2018. Adding this capability would cost manufacturers between $100 and $210 using technologies that are already widely available, according to a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Due to fuel savings, consumers could recoup the additional cost within a year of purchasing a new vehicle.

The bill would help give motorists choices at the pump and help open the market for alternative fuels such as ethanol Growth Energy said Sept. 26. “If we are ever going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and allow consumers a fuel choice, we will need an open market,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “An open market will drive the investment into cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels. ... The more ethanol we have in the market, the less oil we need to import from overseas – keeping our money here in the U.S., putting it to work on our economy.”

The Renewable Fuels Association and the American Coalition for Ethanol have also come out in support of the Open Fuel Standard in the past.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., introduced the bill in the House May 3, with the help of three co-sponsors. As of Sept. 27 the House bill had 16 co-sponsors. There are some differences between the two proposed bills. The House version is slightly more aggressive, calling for 50 percent flex-fuel capable vehicles by 2014, one year earlier than the Senate bill, and ends up with 95 percent flex-fuel capable vehicles by 2017. The Senate bill halts with 80 percent flex-fuel capable vehicles in 2018.

The introduction of the companion bill in the Senate on Sept. 21 coincided with the launch of the United States Energy Security Council, which was formed with the goal of reducing U.S. energy vulnerability and enhancing national security by finding alternatives to foreign oil. One member, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, recently wrote a New York Times op-ed entitled, “How to Weaken the Power of Foreign Oil.” 

In it, Woolsey said that although electric cars may someday be common, in the “near and middle term” the solution is opening the marketplace to fuels other than petroleum. In order to rapidly ramp up production of alternative fuels, investors in cellulosic ethanol or methanol from natural gas need to know that there will be flex-fuel capable vehicles on the road to use those fuels. “Here too, however, a solution is at hand; it lies in Detroit’s making more flex-fuel cars—cars able to use gasoline, ethanol, methanol or any mixture of these,” he said in the opinion piece. “And because this flex-fuel option costs less than $100 per car, making such a change is not exorbitant.” He added that many of the 90 percent of the flex-fuel vehicles sold in Brazil last year were made by U.S. automakers.

For more information check out www.openfuelstandard.org.