Open Fuel Standard act attached to Senate transportation bill

By Holly Jessen | March 01, 2012

Supporters of the Open Fuel Standard Act are still working to get the bill passed into law, which would mandate increasing levels of new vehicles manufactured or sold in the U.S. be flex-fuel capable—able to run on mixtures of E85, natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, electricity, fuel cell or new technologies.

Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind. recently attached the Open Fuel Standard as an amendment to Senate bill 1813, a transportation bill, which, if passed, would reauthorize federal aid highway and highway safety construction programs. “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. I am encouraged by the broad bipartisan and stakeholder support for the Open Fuels Standard Act which I believe is a recognition that this approach will really help diversify our nation’s energy supply and spur investment and job creation.”

On Feb. 29 some big-name Open Fuel Standard supporters held an event in Washington, D.C., in an effort to communicate with and win over congressional staff, said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy. “We need some legislative support,” he told EPM.

Clark spoke at the event, along with Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy; R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; and Robert Zurbin, president of Pioneer Astronautics and author of “Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terrorism by Breaking Free of Oil.”

The Open Fuel Standard was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in May by Rep. John Shimkus and has 24 co-sponsors. Cantwell and one co-sponsor introduced a companion bill in the Senate in September. The House bill would require manufactures to offer consumers 95 percent flex-fuel capable vehicles in 2017 while the Senate bill calls for 80 percent flex-fuel capable vehicles in 2018.

Some form of the bill has been before Congress since 2005 without becoming law. “In the fuels market, it’s a fight for what’s perceived to be an ever smaller pie and every interest competes against every other interest,” Clark said. “So what we’re emphasizing is—all these companies in oil and gas and biofuels, should pull together for the good of America.”

Passing the Open Fuel Standard will reduce U.S. reliance on imported petroleum and help keep the country less vulnerable to oil supply shocks, he said. It also helps keep money and jobs in the U.S., while providing for economic growth. “I think it’s important to bring this forward as law as soon as possible,” Clark said, “because in the 21st century, energy policy is national security policy.”

Not everyone agrees the Open Fuel Standard should become law. On Feb. 28, a group of 23 organizations sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid, majority leader of the Senate, protesting the amendment’s inclusion in the transportation act and asserting that it shouldn’t become law. “At a time when many policy makers are questioning the costs of ethanol to taxpayers, the environment and the food supply, effectively imposing a massive new tax on consumers for a car that can run on ethanol and methanol makes no sense,” the letter said. Among those signing the letter include the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others.