Another Battle Looms in the Endless Ethanol War

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) (R), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speak about immigration during a news conference on Capitol Hill, April 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. The news conference was held to discuss immigration control issues that are before Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Dec. 4, 2013, 4:19 p.m.

The de­bate over the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard flared up again this week ahead of a hear­ing the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency will hold on Thursday to so­li­cit feed­back on a pro­pos­al to lower the 2014 pro­duc­tion man­date.

In­terest groups from both sides of the de­bate have found com­mon ground on one point — they want the pro­pos­al changed. But that’s where the con­sensus ends.

Bio­fuels back­ers say the EPA’s pro­posed cut­backs go too far. Ad­vanced Bio­fuels As­so­ci­ation Pres­id­ent Mi­chael McAdams called the 2014 levels an­nounced last month a “woe­fully in­ad­equate tar­get,” and re­ferred to the draft as the “in­dustry’s worst night­mare” dur­ing a call with re­port­ers on Wed­nes­day.

The oil and gas in­dustry and oth­er in­terest groups, in­clud­ing res­taur­ant and poultry as­so­ci­ations, say that while EPA’s de­cision to po­ten­tially lower next year’s re­new­able-fuel volume ob­lig­a­tions is a step in the right dir­ec­tion, the man­date needs to be dis­as­sembled. And they’re look­ing for a le­gis­lat­ive fix.

“We’ve al­ways main­tained that the ac­tions of the EPA will be short-term in nature, and we really are look­ing to mem­bers of Con­gress to ad­dress this severely flawed and out­dated re­new­able-fuel stand­ard,” Charles Dre­vna, pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an Fuel and Pet­ro­chem­ic­al Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­ation, said Wed­nes­day dur­ing a press call.

Eth­an­ol back­ers dis­agree, say­ing that au­thor­ity to amend the man­date should re­main with EPA des­pite their cri­ti­cism of the agency’s most re­cent pro­pos­al.

“[This] is en­tirely an ad­min­is­trat­ive chal­lenge,” Brooke Cole­man, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Ad­vanced Eth­an­ol Coun­cil, told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily. “While mem­bers of Con­gress can and should weigh in on the mat­ter, there is no need for any sort of le­gis­la­tion. We have is­sues with the pro­pos­al and will seek to get it fixed ad­min­is­trat­ively. But as we have said all along, EPA has the au­thor­ity it needs to ad­min­is­ter the law prop­erly without fur­ther ac­tion by Con­gress.”

Con­gress has so far been slow to take up the is­sue any­way, and there’s spec­u­la­tion that EPA’s move to lower the tar­gets might make law­makers less likely to act.

“I do think that EPA ac­tion took the pres­sure off, at least mo­ment­ar­ily,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. “But the pres­sure for Con­gress to act isn’t go­ing away. If any­thing, EPA’s de­cision shows that there’s a grow­ing con­sensus that the man­date is not work­ing.”

What is clear, however, is that ac­tion won’t come this year — at least not in the House. A spokes­per­son for the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee con­firmed that there are no hear­ings planned on the is­sue for the re­mainder of the year.

“I doubt there will be much of an ap­pet­ite for mov­ing le­gis­la­tion un­til the rule­mak­ing for 2014 shakes out,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Cal­if. “My hope is that my col­leagues will come back next year ready to dis­cuss and ap­prove real, whole­sale changes to the RFS.”

Costa and Welch, along with Reps. Bob Good­latte, R-Va., and Steve Womack, R-Ark., have in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion to lim­it the total amount of eth­an­ol re­finers would need to blend with gas­ol­ine un­der the man­date. The bill re­mains pending in com­mit­tee.

In Novem­ber, aides for Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the sen­at­ors were work­ing to­geth­er to draft le­gis­la­tion to elim­in­ate the corn-eth­an­ol man­date from the stand­ard. But the le­gis­la­tion has not yet sur­faced, and neither of­fice re­spon­ded to a re­quest for com­ment on the status of the meas­ure on Wed­nes­day.

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