Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fuel of the (Near) Future

by Senator Larry Craig

The last time you drove or walked by a wheat field, did you realize you were passing by an oilfield of the future? It’s true.

Early this month, in his State of the Union address, President Bush spoke boldly about breaking the United States’ addiction to oil. For a man from a Texas oil family, these were not words spoken lightly. But leaders have spoken of breaking our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels for decades, with little effect, so you’re not alone in wondering what is different now. The answer is: “Quite a bit.”

After many years, ethanol is becoming increasingly viable as a renewable fuel with many benefits. But what is it? Ethanol is a colorless, flammable liquid that is made through the fermentation of organic materials. It can be added to gasoline to reduce pollution, because it produces fewer greenhouse gases than standard gasoline. The most popular form of ethanol in the United States is made from corn, but ethanol can also be made from wheat, sugar or other plant materials.

I was very excited to hear President Bush mention ethanol as such a high priority, because Idaho is poised to become a very important player in ethanol production. A Canadian-owned company, called Iogen, has done extensive market analysis and selected Idaho as the most desirable area in the world in which to build an ethanol production plant.

Iogen has pioneered a process to commercially produce what is called cellulosic ethanol from abundant crop-waste products like wheat straw or barley straw. Since Idaho is one of the nation’s top producers of barley and wheat, a supply of straw is readily available.

Building the plant would truly be a win-win situation for Idahoans. Iogen’s plant will provide jobs and produce ethanol, which could be purchased at gas stations around the state and the region. Since ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, it will help improve our air quality. And of course, Idaho farmers will gain an important new source of income. Crop wastes, which were previously discarded or burned, will be a commodity that can be sold to help make farms and farmers more profitable and the environment cleaner.

To spur cellulosic ethanol production on a large commercial scale, I worked to include loan guarantees for development of this technology in the energy bill that Congress approved and the President signed last summer. No facility capable of commercial production of cellulosic ethanol exists because of the considerable amount of risk involved. However, Iogen has spent 25 years developing and fine-tuning its processes and is ready to build a plant that will influence the marketplace considerably, starting in Idaho.

For too long, the federal government has talked about alternative fuels and breaking our dependence on oil, especially foreign sources of oil. Now, advances in technology have brought us to the brink of making one of these alternative fuels a reality. Ethanol is not the answer all by itself, but will play an important role in bringing the United States closer to energy independence. It is clean and abundant, and we can grow a new supply every year. So the next time you pass by a wheat or barley field, enjoy the view of Idaho’s oilfields of the future.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

BPA Budget Proposal is Alarming

by Senator Larry Craig

As you may know, the President’s budget for fiscal year 2007 was recently released to the public. This year, as in many years and many administrations past, the budget included a proposal that would change the way the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) repays its debts. Sounds like exciting stuff, doesn’t it? It gets more interesting, because the more you look at the proposal, the more you can see how it reaches right into your pocketbook.

But before I talk about the proposal, allow me to provide a little background information.

When the rivers and streams of the region are running high and BPA-operated dams are generating high levels of electricity, BPA can sell the extra electricity inside and outside the Pacific Northwest. The profits generated are used in the rate calculations to help determine the rates. The ability to use secondary revenues is important to BPA in order to manage shocks to the system and cushion shocks to the rate payers. BPA is able to use this extra revenue to maintain lower rates. For example, during the 2000-2001 energy crisis BPA spent $600 million in secondary revenues in one summer to manage rates.

Under the new proposal, any revenues BPA generates over $500 million in a year must go toward repaying debts BPA owes to the federal treasury, even though the agency has not fallen behind on its payments. In fact, BPA has repaid more than $1.45 billion in early payments to the treasury over the past five years. The Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget argue that this practice will increase BPA’s financial flexibility and help BPA build more transmission capacity. You may be surprised to find that nearly all members of the Northwest Congressional Delegation, myself included, find this proposal completely unacceptable as it now stands.

There are numerous reasons why the proposal is bad for Northwest businesses. Does it sound like a good business practice to raise energy rates and possibly push jobs out of the region? The proposal may not even be legal, for that matter. The Transmission System Act of 1974 calls for the BPA Administrator to set rates at the lowest possible level. However, the proposed change would hamper the BPA Administrator’s ability to keep rates down.

Because of the Transmission System Act and the good practice of returning revenues into the system to manage costs, electricity rates in the Northwest are the lowest in the country. These low rates help attract businesses to the region that provide jobs for working families, which was the intended result of harnessing the abundant hydro resources. These low energy costs help make the Northwest economically competitive with the rest of the nation.

As a consequence, BPA has built more transmission capacity than any one else in the country in recent years, allowing capacity to keep up with the demands of a growing economy and population. But designating BPA revenues to pay off debts instead of keep costs down will result in higher electricity rates, less flexibility, not as much new transmission capacity and a negative impact on the regional economy and possibly your power bill.

The Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee says that designating BPA revenues years in advance for discretionary purposes is inconsistent with sound business principles, and would seriously undermine BPA’s ability to operate as a self-financed agency. Therefore, I and my Northwest colleagues are blocking any federal action until a full study of the impacts of the proposal are developed and there is a discussion in the region about these impacts.

Our goal is a solution that will preserve BPA’s flexibility and good financial standing. On February 16, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and David Anderson from the OMB came to my office to discuss this topic with me and several other Northwest senators. I was pleased by the secretary’s attention and his willingness to hear our concerns. He agreed to work with us to find a solution, and we intend to do just that.

The Northwest is growing very rapidly, and our economy is heavily dependent on hydropower. I will work diligently to resolve this issue favorably, so that the region’s lifeblood – a clean, economical hydropower system– remains a boon, not a burden.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Evolution of Talking and Listening

by Senator Larry Craig

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always up on the latest technologies. I do try to keep myself informed as much as possible, but it seems that every time I visit with my grandchildren, I learn about some new gadget, game, or craze that is sweeping the nation.

Young people have an amazing capacity to adopt new concepts and technologies and apply them to everyday life. Rather than shy away and lose out on the advance of science, however, we adults and seniors can take full advantage of new technologies too. In fact, taking on new challenges and new experiences can be a great way to keep the mind sharp as we age. In this spirit, I have been evaluating, over the last year or two, the way I interact with Idahoans. I have been looking for new ways to reach you, while at the same time seeking to present you with new ways to reach me.

While it isn’t necessarily new, my website (http://craig.senate.gov) is constantly changing, growing, and transforming to meet the communications needs of Idahoans. If you haven’t visited it in a while, I’d encourage you to stop by once again. There is a wealth of information about what’s going on in Washington, D.C.; my stances on important issues of the day; where my regional offices are in the state and how to contact them; how to send me correspondence, ask me questions or let me know your thoughts or concerns; how to submit applications for internships, the page program or academy nominations; and much more.

Would you like to receive bi-weekly updates in your email about what I’ve been doing in the Senate for Idaho? Then “eNEWS” may be the thing for you. Do you listen to audio files on your iPod or some other MP3 player? Whenever possible, my staff and I collect audio and video recordings from Congressional hearings, floor speeches, or even press interviews. I post these files on my website and often “podcast” – an iPod broadcast – them too.

The Washington Report is a short program produced for television that is also available through my website or through podcasting. I’ve even combined podcasting with online chat sessions to create a “podchat.” In a podchat, I take questions submitted via my website and answer them in a podcast, so listeners can get the answers straight from me.

One extra benefit of all these new methods of communication is that they are all very efficient ways to save taxpayer dollars. For example, eNEWS is sent to more than 60,000 subscribers across Idaho. To send eNEWS through the traditional mail system would take 60,000 stamps, at 39 cents apiece, every two weeks. That works out to $608,400 per year, not counting printing and labor costs. Producing and distributing eNEWS with computers and email costs just a small fraction of that.

Having said all that, I don’t want anyone to feel that they must be on the cutting edge of technology in order to share their thoughts or request information and assistance. While all these newfangled programs are indeed convenient and exciting, I still appreciate a handwritten letter, a phone call or a face-to-face meeting as much as anything. In fact, I have continued to travel the state as much as possible and see you in your towns, schools, homes and places of work. In the last six months, I’ve held town hall meetings in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Jerome, Mountain Home, Meridian, McCall, Boise, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene.

I’m always looking for effective ways to communicate with Idahoans and for Idahoans to communicate with me. This helps me provide timely, high-quality constituent service, increase opportunities and incentives for citizen involvement in the political and legislative process, and most important, always remain in touch with Idaho.