Inslee: nation poised for energy breakthrough

Jay Inslee - TRISTAN BAURICK/Staff Photo
Jay Inslee
— image credit: TRISTAN BAURICK/Staff Photo

The congressman cites initiatives, investment in alternative fuels.

For Congressman Jay Inslee, the patchwork of farms rolling beneath a cross-continental flight can spark window-seat visions of an cleaner, more peaceful and economically vibrant America.

“I looked down at the miles of farmland and I thought someday we’ll be able to call this the United States of Biofuels,” the Bainbridge Island Democrat said Saturday at the fourth annual Northwest Biodiesel Forum in Seattle. “I’m committed to it. I want to see our fuels come from Eastern Washington farmers rather than Middle Eastern sheiks.”

Through a series of proposed government measures – including a few of his own – and the growing trend toward automobiles using alternative power sources, Inslee believes the country is at the cusp of widespread changes in energy use.

Even President George W. Bush is slowly catching on, Inslee said.

“The President the other day said he’d help us break our addiction to oil,” said Inslee. “That’s like expecting Cheech and Chong to break their addiction to marijuana. But it’s good he understands Americans are ready for a revolution” in alternative energies.

One facet of the revolution may include the “Health Care for Hybrids” act Inslee hopes to push through Congress with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s assistance.

The proposed measure, introduced by Obama in the Senate and Inslee in the House of Representatives, would help American auto companies pay some of their mounting healthcare costs through a new federal assistance program.

In return, automakers would be required to reinvest these savings into developing fuel-efficient vehicles. As a result, Inslee said, the proposal would measurably reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

“Instead of a no-strings-attached financial bailout of the auto industry that could lead to factories being built overseas, our proposal could jumpstart the industry to commercialize new technology that consumers are demanding,” Inslee said. “More American hybrid cars also ensure that there is competition in this growing market, and would also help keep car prices low.”

As more showrooms feature a widening array of hybrid electric and gas vehicles, Inslee said the largely grassroots movement toward increased biofuel use is poised to hit the mainstream.

“I’m a firm believer in a very strong canola-based biofuel industry,” he said. “I see the seeds of it here today.”

Biofuel is any energy source derived from biomass – recently living organisms or their byproducts, such as cow manure.

It is a renewable energy source, unlike other conventional resources such as nuclear energy, petroleum and coal fuels.

Inslee foresees boom years ahead for American farmers who plant mustard and canola, two crops commonly used in the production of biodiesel and ethanol.

He sees a natural link in Washington state between farms in the east and technology companies in the west.

“This will be as large as the software revolution of the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “It’s happening in the U.S. and this is the central point, here in Washington state.”

Inslee said state and local governments are leading the way in applying biofuel technology. He cited Snohomish County’s use of biofuels in public buses and Washington State Ferries’ renewed commitment to improve its renewable energy technology.

“I’ll be happy from a commuter’s perspective when they get biofuels back on Washington state ferries,” he said to a round of applause from forum attendees. “I recently talked with (WSF President Mike Anderson). He says they’re committed to a second go-around.”

WSF suspended its biodiesel pilot program last summer on the Fauntleroy-Southworth-Vashon ferry route after the fuel clogged engine filters.

The ferries used a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent low-sulfur petroleum diesel during the test. WSF began its Clean Fuel Initiative in 2004 to reduce fleet air emissions.

Ferries officials confirmed Inslee’s statements, expressing a commitment to fixing the ferries’ filter clogging problems.

Inslee also touted his Apollo Energy Project, a wide-ranging alternative energy measure he calls “the most comprehensive ever introduced in Congress.”

The project aims to dramatically reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil, address global warming and create millions of new jobs in the burgeoning alternative energy industry.

Inslee also hopes to reduce federal subsidies to oil companies and pass on the savings to citizens who choose to use alternative energy technologies.

“The ‘dino-diesel’ guys have enormous subsidies, (yet) they get to put carbon dioxide in the air for free,” he said. “They also get a $120 billion subsidy with our military protecting their interests. When we take away those subsidies, biodiesel is going to be king. Those tax breaks will go to citizens for conversion kits rather than tax breaks for Exxon.”

The need to enact such measures grows each day as the polar ice caps melt away.

“We lost 36 cubic miles of ice in the Arctic last year,” he said. “Fortunately, while the ice is breaking there, the ice is also breaking in the political sphere. We’re developing a biofuel economy from the ground up and, now that the ice is breaking politically, we’ll start to get things done in Washington, D.C.”

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