Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Last month's spike in energy prices pushed inflation higher, but minimal increases in the costs of other goods fueled a rally on Wall Street. According to the Labor Department, the Consumer Price Index jumped 0.4 percent last month. But outside of energy and food, prices rose by just 0.2 percent, their smallest gain in five months. The Dow Jones industrial average rose nearly 100 points on the news and closed at its highest level in three months. Meanwhile, oil prices declined more than $3 this week, as the cease-fire in Lebanon continued. And the average price for regular gasoline fell nearly 4 percent this week and now stands right at $3 per gallon. Though retail fuel prices posted a weekly decline, they're still 45 percent higher than last year. As consumers pony up at the pump, calls for increased production of bio-based fuels are getting louder.
Private industry is stepping forward to help reduce fuel prices by creating more fuel at home. The Renewable Energy Group, a Western Iowa based biofuels producer, announced this week it has raised $100 million to build 12 biodiesel refineries. The plants are expected to make 640 million gallons of biodiesel annually by 2010.
State governments also are ramping up assistance. Through its "Opportunity Returns" program, the state of Illinois is giving $25 million in grant money for the construction of five biofuels plants.
And the framers of the next Farm Bill are already focusing on renewable energy in hopes of lessening America's dependence on foreign oil. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is calling for the expansion of programs promoting alternative fuels.
Heartland stump opportunities for presidential hopefuls, more often than not, now include a biofuels component. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana points to an energy bill he introduced last year.
Sen Evan Bayh, D - Indiana: "... it does provide strong incentives for the use and distribution of ethanol and biodiesel so that we can rely on America's farmers rather than the sheiks and other regimes in the Middle East.
And this week, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack delivered their own grade of "renewable rhetoric" at the Iowa State Fair.
Governor Tom Vilsack, D - Iowa: "Having been in the office of one of the large oil companies recently that they are now beginning to look for strategies to themselves become the producers and owners of facilities that produce biofuels."
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia: "…you're starting to see national security hawks and environmental hawks and energy hawks all coming together to say this current energy regime will not last. And I think big oil does not have the prestige or the network today to stop a serious biofuels bill."