BELLEVILLE — U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, stumped for a bill he introduced earlier this year aimed at turning vast amounts of Illinois corn and other crops into military aircraft fuel.
Enyart's bill calls for Congress to direct the U.S. Air Force to develop a program to provide competitive grants to existing biofuel research centers.
"I know that here in Southern Illinois, we have the capacity and expertise necessary to quickly and efficiently conduct such research, development and testing," Enyart told local farm leaders at the Southern Illinois University Research Center, across the road from Scott Air Force Base.
Enyart, a member of the U.S. House agriculture and armed services committees, said he came up with the idea for the proposal a few months ago, when he read that the Navy already has a pilot program to power ships and submarines with biofuels.
"And it made perfect sense to me that we should create such a program for the U.S. Air Force as well," he said.
John Caupert, the director of the National Corn-To-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, applauded Enyart's proposed bill, saying it will bring an economic stimulus and good-paying jobs to the region.
"Every drop of homegrown fuel is one less drop imported from countries around the world that are less friendly to our nation's interests," Caupert said.
The military's growing embrace of biofuels has sparked controversy in the U.S. Congress.
A year ago the Navy triggered the wrath of congressional Republicans when it acknowledged spending $26 per gallon on biofuels for its Great Green Fleet program, according to Reuters, the international news agency.
But more eyebrows were raised when members of Congress learned that the Air Force had bought 11,000 gallons of biofuels for jets at a cost of $59 per gallon. This compares to petroleum-based fuel, which costs less than $4 per gallon, Reuters reported.
Enyart closed his talk by pointing out to his listeners that they stand beside fields of corn and soybeans that will be harvested in the weeks ahead.
The congressman also noted that across from those crops are the Scott aircraft runways "that support fighter jets and refueling tankers that keep our country strong and secure from any threat in the world."
Standing here today, "I know I have an idea whose time has come," Enyart said.