A duo of strange bedfellows introduced legislation Thursday that would significantly reform — and reduce in scope — the renewable fuel standard, a mandate that requires increasingly large amounts of biofuels to be blended with gasoline.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would eliminate the corn-ethanol portion of the RFS but retain the smaller mandates that require volumes of advanced biofuels not derived from feedstock, such as cellulosic. Feinstein and Coburn have worked together in the past on eliminating subsidies for the corn-ethanol industry.
In a rarity for energy policy, this legislation is attracting support right out of the gate from both sides of the aisle. Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., are also cosponsors.
Another unlikely pair — Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and David Vitter, R-La. — is working on separate legislation that also seeks to keep the advanced-biofuels goals of the program intact while removing altogether or reducing the corn-ethanol part. Timing on this legislation is unclear, a spokesperson for Cardin said Wednesday.
The RFS, enacted in 2005 and strengthened significantly in 2007, requires refiners to blend 16.55 billion gallons of biofuels in 2013. Most of that — 13 billion — will be corn ethanol. The mandate has come under intense scrutiny from a diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from the oil and refining industries, to livestock and food groups, to environmentalists.
After dithering on the issue for much of this year, the Senate held its first hearing on the mandate Wednesday, in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., indicated she won’t support major reform to the policy. “As chairman of this committee, and I have the gavel for now, I’m not going to let us reverse course…. I’m just not,” she said.
“No program is perfect, that’s for sure, whatever it is; even in the private sector, no new product is perfect and no new marketing strategy is perfect at first. So we’ve got to work together, and I’m willing to do that. But I just think, overall, let’s not turn our back on a way to make sure we can become more energy independent and have a better environment in the long run,” Boxer added.
Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have been jointly working on the RFS since March.
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The House voted down the otherwise uncontroversial Energy and Water appropriations bill Thursday after Democrats succeeded in attaching an amendment affirming LGBT job discrimination protections for military contractors. More than 40 Republicans supported the amendment, but when it came to vote on the bill, 130 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to sink the bill. Speaker Paul Ryan said Democrats voting against the bill after securing the amendment shows their intention was to scuttle the process. Democrats, however, blamed other so-called poison-pill amendments for their votes against the bill. Nonetheless, Ryan said he intends to continue the appropriations process.
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