Will House Legislation on Contentious Biofuels Policy Ever Happen?

Chaiman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), questions Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, (D-IN), and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, co-chairmen of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future during a hearing on Capitol Hill February 1, 2012 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee heard the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future on how to create safe, long-term solutions for managing and disposing of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Jan. 10, 2014, 6 a.m.

After a host of rare bi­par­tis­an hear­ings and re­ports last year, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee may not in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion at all ad­dress­ing the con­tro­ver­sial re­new­able fuel stand­ard, ac­cord­ing to one key Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber of the com­mit­tee.

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois., chair­man of the En­vir­on­ment and En­ergy Sub­com­mit­tee and a ne­go­ti­at­or of the pan­el’s bio­fuels policy, said the com­mit­tee is at least in a hold­ing pat­tern un­til the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency fi­nal­izes a reg­u­la­tion on this rule, which isn’t ex­pec­ted to hap­pen un­til later this spring or sum­mer.

“I can safely say there will be no le­gis­la­tion un­til at least then,” Shimkus said in an in­ter­view Thursday. “I’m not op­tim­ist­ic that there’s go­ing to be le­gis­la­tion any­more.”

A spokes­wo­man for the com­mit­tee said in a state­ment that le­gis­la­tion is still needed.

“While EPA’s an­nounce­ment has helped al­le­vi­ate some of the most press­ing con­cerns, the need for le­gis­lat­ive re­form is still ne­ces­sary,” said com­mit­tee spokes­wo­man Char­lotte Baker. “The un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the pro­posed rule and the threat of a ju­di­cial chal­lenge un­der­score the need for a le­gis­lat­ive fix. The com­mit­tee is con­tinu­ing to mon­it­or EPA’s rule­mak­ing and is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing a range of solu­tions.”

The re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, cre­ated in 2005 and sig­ni­fic­antly strengthened in 2007, re­quires re­finer­ies to blend an in­creas­ingly large amount of bio­fuels — mainly from corn eth­an­ol — in­to the na­tion’s gas­ol­ine sup­ply. It has faced in­creas­ing cri­ti­cism over the past year, in part be­cause of the sum­mer of 2012’s his­tor­ic drought and be­cause ma­jor oil com­pan­ies claim the bio­fuels levels are high­er than what’s tech­nic­ally pos­sible.

In Novem­ber, EPA pro­posed bio­fuels levels for 2014 that were lower than bio­fuels pro­du­cers had wanted, and it pleased — to a lim­ited ex­tent — the oil in­dustry.

“I think the EPA has taken a lot of the steam out,” Shimkus said.

A lot has changed since last year. In a rar­ity, House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton, R-Mich., and rank­ing Demo­crat Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., have been work­ing to­geth­er on this is­sue throughout the bet­ter part of 2013. Their staffs wrote white pa­pers to­geth­er and col­lab­or­ated on hear­ings. Shimkus said last sum­mer that the com­mit­tee was plan­ning to write le­gis­la­tion. But then EPA pro­posed its rule in Novem­ber.

“EPA did their job,” Shimkus said.

Now, ap­par­ently, Con­gress may not have to.

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