Senators Split Vote on Ethanol Subsidies

Alaska’s U.S. Senators split their votes Tuesday on whether to consider getting rid of the hefty subsides that go to ethanol producers. Senator Lisa Murkowski says it’s time to discontinue the ethanol tax credit and import tariffs prized by farming states.

She voted to move forward legislation by fiscal hawk Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Senator Mark Begich voted against advancing the amendment. It needed 60 votes but failed 40 to 59. Begich’s office says he’s looking at “both sides of the ethanol issue,” and voted against it because Senator Coburn forced the vote without time for debate.

Murkowski’s spokesman on the Energy Committee Robert Dillon says the subsidies aren’t justifiable given the tight budget.

Ethanol, made from corn, is blended into auto fuel. The ethanol subsidies are a 45 cent per gallon tax credit on ethanol blended into gasoline, and a 54 cent tariff slapped on any imported ethanol.

Tuesday’s vote put a handful of farming state senators on the defensive, but Dillon says ethanol gets other benefits, like through the Renewable Fuel Standard.  He says it should not pit oil and gas states like Alaska against ethanol heavy states.

The amendment that failed to move Tuesday sets up a debate expected to play out during the coming months over what tax breaks to keep in place, and which ones to get rid of.

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