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Eco-bikers pedal for energy awareness

Thursday, September 16, 2004

National policies 'weak-willed'

They included bicycles powered by sun and ethanol and their message will likely extend far beyond their journey across four states.

A group of riders in the 2004 Green Bike Tour, sponsored by the Iowa Policy Project, made its way through Buena Vista County Tuesday to carry its message: The group is pedaling change in energy policy. Starting at Howard, S.D., the group is driving and biking its way to Wisconsin this week in order to cover the most miles in the shortest possible time.

Mike Kelly of Storm Lake, manager of Top of Iowa Windfarm near Mason City, is joining at least a leg of the tour to help promote wind energy.

"I hope Iowa does more so we can stay in Iowa," Kelly said of wind energy development. "Iowa was the leader at one time. We're not doing what we can in Iowa for renewable energy." At present, said Kelly, Iowa imports 97 percent of its energy.

Iowa is not the only place where renewable energy development is stunted. At crux of the issue is the current federal energy bill still stuck in joint conference committee. The bill includes renewal of energy tax credits that benefit development of projects such as the currently operating Buena Vista County Wind Farm near Alta and the Intrepid Wind Farm project planned in Sac and southern Buena Vista counties, the latter project slated to begin supplying power late this year.

John Moreland, aid to Republican Sen. Tom Harkin, said the energy bill includes a provision that would shield industries producing MTBE, a fuel mileage-enhancing additive, from lawsuits by municipalities over the leakage of MTBE from underground storage tanks into water supplies. Moreland said the current energy bill which passed the U.S. House remains held up in the Senate since the bill received only 58 out of the required 60 votes. Calling the MTBE liability waiver "a giveaway" to petroleum companies," Moreland said, "This waiver issue has stopped the energy bill."

Unfortunately, the same energy bill that gives ethanol and biodiesel a sure place in the market due to tax incentives, Moreland said, contains the MTBE waiver .

David Osterberg, a University of Iowa professor, one-time Senate candidate, and an organizer of the Iowa Policy Project and the bike tour, had somewhat stronger language on the issue.

"We have terrible policy at the national level. The House leadership has tied this to some terrible things. The Bush administration is just awful on this issue," Osterberg said. "There's a reason that the Bush administration is as stupid as it is, because Dick Cheney runs it. Bush is just too weak-willed to oppose him."

One example Osterberg cited of how public policy can effect an environmental change would be the City of Chicago which has committed to buying a minimum of 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Osterberg was quick to point out that the Iowa Policy Project was nonpartisan in its endorsement of candidates. Candidates' stands on renewable energy would be the only criterion the group has in deciding whom it wants in public office.

"If we find people from either party that support renewable energy, we'll support them," Osterberg said.

Osterberg sees Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley as having a good stance on renewable energy policies, and the same for George Pataki of New York. He praised Alta Rep. Mary Lou Freedom who helped him make arrangements to bring The Green Bike Tour to Buena Vista County.

Freeman said a production tax credit before the Iowa Legislature last year did not get off the ground because it was not correctly written. She said that bill will likely be resurrected in the next session.

"That is one of the things that is very important to this group that came through today," Freeman said of the bike tour.

Freeman also is waiting to see what happens with the federal energy bill. "We're sort of in limbo until something can be done with that," Freeman said.

Storm Lake native Gail Barels was on the current tour as well as others, including Europe. A Buena Vista University graduate, Barels is a naturalist for the Linn County Conservation Board. Barels sees a wealth of applications for renewable energies for individuals and small business.

"It's something that can really happen," Barels said. "It's a great thing that can happen for the environment."

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