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Tuesday June 14, 2011 | 04:03 PM

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine were two of just 40 senators who voted this afternoon to repeal a $6 billion a year taxpayer subsidy for corn-based ethanol fuel.

The proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok., needed 60 votes.

A group of farm-state senators from both parties voted against the repeal.

Some Democrats voted no because they were opposed to the manner in which Coburn tried to tack the legislation on to a broader bill. Meanwhile, the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform told Republicans who have signed ATR’s no-tax increase pledge that it considered the repeal a tax hike because there was no corresponding tax cut elsewhere.

Collins and Snowe are among just seven GOP senators who have not signed the ATR pledge. In all, though, 34 Republicans voted in favor of the repeal.

Proponents of repealing the ethanol subsidy say it’s too expensive for what it produces and doesn’t serve to put much of a dent in foreign oil dependence.

Snowe said in an interview on Capitol Hill before the vote that she’s been a longtime supporter of repealing the ethanol subsidy, adding that she has proposed in its place a $1,500 tax credit to spur energy efficiency practices such as installing energy efficient furnaces and windows.

“Spending billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded ethanol subsidies has done little to reduce the prices families and small businesses pay at the pump, has damaged countless snowmobile and boat engines, and boosts food prices throughout the world,” Snowe also said, in a statement after the vote.  “While we must address the entirety of energy and tax policies to focus on reducing household energy bills, continuing this expensive subsidy is irresponsible, especially as we struggle with an unprecedented national debt.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Collins charged that the ethanol subsidy is “fiscally irresponsible, environmentally unwise, and economically indefensible.”

Citing its $6 billion annual cost, Collins said that, “This is quite a sum to prop up a fuel that is causing land conversion for corn production, commodity and food prices to rise, and is barely putting a dent in our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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