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Rep. Benishek’s constiuents pushing him to block ethanol funding

Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) campaigned on cutting federal spending. Now some of his constituents are asking him to keep the U.S. Dept. of Energy from spending $58 million on a project to turn Upper Peninsula trees into ethanol.

The Mascoma corporation and logging companyJ.M. Longyear plan to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol annually at the Frontier biofuel refinery project in Kinross.

The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter argues that Benishek should make good on his campaign promises by intervening to stop the DOE from finalizing funding for the biofuel project.

Stopping federal subsidies for this boondoggle will save taxpayers in Michigan and nationwide more than $100 million in direct taxpayer subsidies to Frontier, including state and local taxes. Frontier wants to use our tax dollars to cut 1 million tons of Michigan trees (standing, green wood — not waste wood) each year to feed the biofuel plant, even though it would create fewer jobs than any other forest industry investment. And in the end, the Frontier plant would use 8% of Michigan’s annual forest growth to produce a miniscule 0.02% of Michigan’s annual gasoline usage.

The Sierra Club is also suing the state for issuing a permit for the Mascoma project.

The group claims that regulators did not fully take into account the pollution the plant will generate.

Though the plant will ferment wood sugars into ethanol, emissions estimates used in the permit are based on the fermentation of corn sugars into ethanol, the group says, and because the ethanol production process relies on non-renewable natural gas, the project will use 33 percent more energy than will be contained in the ethanol it produces.

The project has already received $49.5 million in state and federal grants as a renewable energy demonstration project.

Benishek was traveling in the district Friday morning and unavailable to talk about federal spending for the project.

“We are aware of the issue and we will be speaking with him about it when he returns,“ said staffer Michelle Lane.

Benishek may not be able to stop federal support for the project.

U.S. Dept. of Energy spokesman Gene Peterson said that funding for the project has already been authorized and will be finalized once the environmental review process is complete.

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