Feinstein, Coburn Seek to Eliminate Corn in Biofuels Mandate

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Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) listens during a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works meeting discussing global warming on January 30, 2007.
National Journal
Amy Harder
Dec. 12, 2013, 6:59 a.m.

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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