Lawmakers Pump EPA for Lower Ethanol Mandate

PALESTINE, IL - JULY 25: A field of dead corn sits next to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Illinois. This summer's extended drought, which has scorched corn and soybean crops across the Midwest, is expected to impact the price of gasoline which, in most states, contains at least 10 percent ethanol. The price of ethanol on the Chicago Board of Trade has risen nearly 25% this year. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
Nov. 3, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

The battle over eth­an­ol con­tin­ues to rage as the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency pre­pares to re­lease the 2014 re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, a man­date de­term­in­ing the amount of bio­fuel re­finers will be re­quired to blend with gas­ol­ine next year.

Both sup­port­ers and op­pon­ents of the bio­fuels man­date have been mak­ing their cases be­fore the pub­lic and the ad­min­is­tra­tion for months. Now, however, law­makers are in­creas­ingly adding their voices to the con­ver­sa­tion in an at­tempt to wrest power away from the agency and back to Con­gress.

Last Thursday, Reps. Bob Good­latte, R-Va., Jim Costa, D-Cal­if., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Steve Womack, R-Ark., sent a let­ter signed by a bi­par­tis­an group of 165 ad­di­tion­al law­makers from the House to EPA Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy ask­ing for re­duced re­quire­ments for corn eth­an­ol next year.

The let­ter ar­gues that the re­new­able-fuels stand­ard raises corn prices and could dam­age car en­gines when the E10 blend­wall — the point at which gas­ol­ine blends ex­ceed 10 per­cent eth­an­ol — is reached.

The let­ter de­fers to the EPA’s au­thor­ity to carry out the re­com­mend­a­tion. But in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily, Welch em­phas­ized that while he and oth­er law­makers want EPA to re­vise the man­date down­ward, RFS re­form is an is­sue that should ul­ti­mately be de­cided by Con­gress.

“We want the EPA to use its au­thor­ity giv­en to it by Con­gress in the short-term to make a prac­tic­al de­cision to keep the man­date from in­creas­ing,” Welch said. “But the en­tire eth­an­ol man­date should be re­con­sidered by Con­gress. We want im­me­di­ate ac­tion from the agency, but we’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to work in Con­gress to achieve broad­er re­form.”

In April, Good­latte, Welch, Costa, and Womack in­tro­duced a bill to amend the re­new­able-fuels stand­ard by lim­it­ing the amount of eth­an­ol that re­finers would be re­quired to blend with gas­ol­ine and cut­ting out the con­ven­tion­al bio­fuels man­date al­to­geth­er.

The bill has not yet been re­por­ted out of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, however, and faced with con­gres­sion­al in­ac­tion the law­makers are seek­ing to in­flu­ence EPA.

On the oth­er side of the Cap­it­ol, Sens. Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are also vy­ing to amend the RFS through le­gis­la­tion.

Aides for both sen­at­ors con­firmed the two are work­ing to­geth­er to draft le­gis­la­tion to elim­in­ate the corn-eth­an­ol man­date from the RFS. The aides did not com­ment as to a pos­sible re­lease date, but a draft could sur­face some­time this week.

At least one rep­res­ent­at­ive from the bio­fuels in­dustry ex­pressed con­cern over the pos­sib­il­ity of le­gis­lat­ive tinker­ing with the stand­ard.

“I’m dis­ap­poin­ted that so many mem­bers of Con­gress would be un­in­formed and en­cour­age the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­duce the RFS in this way, which really would be a re­treat of the RFS which calls for in­creas­ing volumes of bio­fuels to be blen­ded with gas­ol­ine,” said Bri­an Jen­nings, ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an Co­ali­tion for Eth­an­ol, a group based in South Dakota. “We have a lot of con­fid­ence so far in how EPA has handled the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the RFS and we con­tin­ue to be­lieve that the place where the RFS can and should be ad­jus­ted is at the EPA.”

EPA is re­quired by law to pub­lish next year’s RFS this month, with the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, the largest trade as­so­ci­ation for the oil and gas in­dustry, threat­en­ing to sue the agency if it does not fi­nal­ize the 2014 stand­ard by Nov. 30.

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