The state House of Representatives recently took a step toward energy independence by passing an act aimed at eliminating or at least limiting the state's dependence on foreign oil.
Specifically, state Rep. Michael Gerber's legislation aims to mandate the blending of 10 percent ethanol in gasoline and eventually 20 percent biodiesel in diesel once in-state production reaches certain levels. It also looks to establish production and distribution standards to help advance a shift toward cleaner and cheaper domestic fuel sources and stimulate the Pennsylvania economy with the in-state production of these renewable fuels.
"This is a great step towards making Pennsylvania a cleaner and more energy independent state thanks to the support and leadership demonstrated by my colleagues in the House," Gerber said.
State Rep. Russell Fairchild says that he supports biodiesel "100 percent" but feels that from an environmental perspective, there is a problem with the corn-based ethanol proposal.
"The problems relate to a scientific report we received at the Chesapeake Bay Commission at our last meeting in Washington, D.C.," Fairchild said. "Essentially, they said that it -- the production of corn based ethanol -- would add about 15 million pounds of nitrogen a year into the bay watershed."
Fairchild mentioned that too much nitrogen is the No. 1 problem found when cleaning up bays and rivers.
"The report essentially said that it would take us back to 1985 in terms of nitrogen levels and that is a terrible environmental shock," Fairchild said.
Fairchild feels that we are just trying to "hold on" and not go backward while slowly trying to inch forward on the cleanup of the East Coast's rivers and bays.
"The reliance and the estimates of what would happen with a 100 percent accurate report on corn-based ethanol, shows that it is really not good for the environment," Fairchild said. "The problem is the increased amount of fertilizer that they will want to make the corn grow."
Fairchild said cellulistic ethanol may be a cleaner alternative to corn-based products. "It is made out of different types of woody products, switch grasses, tree trimmings, that kind of thing."
The bill is part of a new "Energy Independence Strategy" being pursued by House Democrats and supported by Gov. Ed Rendell.
There is currently debate as to how certain legislation of the "Energy Independence Strategy" will be funded.
"The thing that is in discussion now is how we are going to fund it," Merle Phillips said.
"His (Rendell) recommendation is to float a bond and add an increase in the light bills of residents and businesses," Phillips said. The increased revenue from the electric bills would be used to pay down the bond.
The Clean Fuels and Energy Independence Act (H.B. 1202) and other energy bills will be passed over to the state Senate, where they will no doubt face more debate and likely will be altered. Any changes would have to go back to the House for approval. If the Senate supports the House-passed bill, it will then go to Rendell for signature or veto.