In an effort to address increasing energy and food costs, U.S. Senator Susan Collins is cosponsoring legislation to freeze the corn-based ethanol mandate at this year’s level. Legislation passed last year requires an annual increase in the amount of ethanol produced domestically, from 4.7 billion gallons in 2007, to nine billion this year, and increasing to 15 billion in 2015. However, this mandate appears to be a cause of increased food prices. According to commodity price reports, the combined increase in the price of corn, wheat, and soybeans is over 416% since February 2006.

“Hard working families are being squeezed between skyrocketing energy prices and soaring increases in food costs,” said Senator Collins. “I am concerned that the increasing use of food crops to produce biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol, is contributing to the rising cost of food. Freezing the mandate is a common-sense approach to immediately addressing this problem.”

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) increased the ethanol mandate to 15 billion gallons of corn and 1 billion gallons of bio-diesel by 2015. In that legislation, Congress provided the EPA with the authority to waive the mandates, or adjust them as necessary to provide relief for consumers.

On April 22, Senator Collins joined several of her colleagues in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for a status report on the pending rule-making process for the waiver of all or portions of the ethanol mandate passed by Congress last year. The letter also usage the EPA to consider the sharp rise in food prices as they review the mandate.

The legislation would maintain federal support for ethanol from non-food sources, such as wood or “cellulosic” sources. This keeps the country on track to increase its overall production of renewable fuels that provide an alternative to traditional gasoline and diesel.