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Biodiesel bill passes state Senate 

The state senate approved a bill on Feb. 13 that would increase the production and use of biodiesel, the petroleum-free alternative fuel. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, requires that local schools and state agencies run diesel vehicles, including school buses, on fuel that contains at least 2 percent biodiesel.

Because the state and local schools consume millions of gallons of diesel annually, the bill, if it becomes law, would be a boon for production of biodiesel, a cleaner version of petroleum diesel that's made from vegetable oils or animal fat. What's more, biodiesel doesn't emit greenhouse gases when burned.

But a cleaner environment wasn't the impetus for the legislation. "This is no longer about lower energy prices and a cleaner environment, which are important things, too," Kemp said, just before asking the rest of the Senate to support his bill. "This is an issue about energy independence."

Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellvile, said in support of the biodiesel requirements, "If Venezuela shuts down [oil production] and if Iran shuts down, we need to go to other sources."

There's one loophole that could allow schools to continue using petroleum diesel, though. The amended version of the bill that passed, with a vote of 52-4, requires that schools and state agencies buy biodiesel-blended fuel -- only if it doesn't cost 5 percent more than regular diesel.

As of press time, biodiesel was cheaper than petroleum diesel. But diesel and biodiesel prices can swing daily by as much as 15 cents per gallon, according to Robert Thornton, operations manager at S.A. White Oil Co., a Marietta-based distributor of fuels including biodiesel and petroleum diesel.

Thornton says the price of biodiesel dropped lower than regular diesel for the first time about a month ago, and he attributes the price drop to the opening of several new biodiesel plants. Thornton says sales of biodiesel, which can be used in any diesel vehicle, increased drastically in the past year.

Already, city school systems in Rome and Macon use a fuel blended with 20 percent biodiesel in their school buses, as do school systems in Floyd, Bibb, Jones, Taliaferro and Houston counties.

And Gary Black, a Republican candidate for state agriculture commissioner, has turned biodiesel into an election issue in his race against incumbent Tommy Irvin. Black runs his campaign truck on biodiesel, according to his website.

Kemp's biodiesel bill now awaits passage by the state House of Representatives.

Get involved: For more info, visit www.biodiesel.org.

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