Ethanol has transformed rural economies in many areas of Nebraska, said Johanns. However, “every time the blender’s credit comes up for renewal (in Congress), it’s a tougher battle. … Is there a point where we start phasing that out and offering a tax credit or something to put the pumps in? The more I roll it over in mind, it seems a wise policy to try to build the marketplace instead of rely on the credit. One of these times, I’m worried it won’t be (renewed).”

A trade group focused on greener energy, Growth Energy has produced a “Fueling Freedom” Plan that talks “about taking a portion of the current incentive to build up the infrastructure and use it to build up blender pumps,” said Jeff Broin, CEO and president of ethanol industry leader POET, who is looking to expand an Iowa biofuel facility’s cellulosic capabilities.We believe we could get about 200,000 blender pumps put in this country in five years. … Couple that with a requirement for flex-fuel vehicle in addition to government loan guarantees for pipeline. We need some pipeline structure here, as well.

“That could really make the difference and let us go head-to-head with oil. The problem today is we’re dealing with an industry with a 90 percent monopoly. If we could truly open that market, incentives become far less important to the (biofuels) industry.”

Broin also advocated for the continuation of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) “since it’s very important to have stability around government policies in these areas. We’ve been awash in grain in this country for my entire life. I still think there’s still a tremendous opportunity in grain ethanol, as well. In the next 20 years, we’ll double our grain yields. That’s more starch that can go to ethanol and protein for the feed and food markets.”

To provide needed stock, Dale recommended extensive adoption of double-cropping of grasses and legumes on corn and soybean fields. Is such double-cropping possible in most regions of the United States?

Dale admitted it wouldn’t be appropriate for all regions. Researchers have looked “in detail at where it could be done – soil types, rains, and all the factors that go into it. They think you could produce about 200 million dry tons of mostly winter rye and other things in areas of the Corn Belt that get a lot of wet weather.”

As the hearing concluded, Dale pleaded with the committee not to take a short view on biofuels. There is no quick fix.

“I was a new, 22-year-old father when we had the first oil embargo. President Carter said ‘we need to get off foreign oil.’ Every president since has said (the same).

“Now, I’m a 61-year-old grandfather and I’m really concerned my grandkids have a better, more stable economic environment.

“What we must realize is it will take decades to do this. We use about 140 billion gallons of gasoline in this country every year. It will take decades to get to a very large replacement of that. … We must keep going down this path and not allow ourselves to be dissuaded. It will take a long time. … We can do it with cellulosic and other biofuels, but it will take decades.”

To read panelists' statements see testimony.

dbennett@farmpress.com