Conservatives Unite Against Biofuels Mandate, With One Notable Exception

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist speaks during a press conference discussing the taxation of marijuana businesses outside the U.S. Capitol September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. The National Cannabis Industry Association is seeking tax reform to change the current policy that requires medical marijuana providers to pay taxes based on gross receipts rather than income. 
National Journal
Clare Foran Amy Harder
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Clare Foran Amy Harder
Sept. 30, 2013, 5 p.m.

Just a few days after a co­ali­tion of 20 mostly con­ser­vat­ive groups jumped in­to the de­bate over the fed­er­al bio­fuels man­date and de­man­ded full re­peal, one prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ive lead­er said he’s will­ing to ac­cept something less — for now.

“Do I want re­peal? Yes,” said Grover Nor­quist, pres­id­ent of Amer­ic­ans for Tax Re­form. “Would something else be an im­prove­ment over where we are? Ab­so­lutely.”

Nor­quist’s com­ment comes just days after his group and sev­er­al oth­ers — in­clud­ing Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, the Amer­ic­an En­ergy Al­li­ance, and Amer­ic­an Com­mit­ment — sent Con­gress an open let­ter re­quest­ing full re­peal of the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, and noth­ing less.

The stand­ard, which re­quires an in­creas­ing amount of bio­fuels — mostly corn-based eth­an­ol — to be blen­ded with the na­tion’s gas­ol­ine sup­ply each year, is cur­rently un­der re­view by lead­ers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee.

“It has come to our at­ten­tion that Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing le­gis­la­tion this fall to re­form the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard,” the groups wrote. “We, col­lect­ively and in­di­vidu­ally, be­lieve the only re­form to this failed gov­ern­ment man­date should be to re­peal the RFS.”

But on Monday, Nor­quist took a step back from the re­peal-only stance. “We should re­peal as much of the man­date as quickly as we can, but if we can only get rid of part of it now, we’ll get rid of some part of it now,” he said. “We’ll take that while we work to­wards re­peal.”

House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton, R-Mich., and rank­ing mem­ber Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., are work­ing on le­gis­la­tion that some­how re­forms the policy but doesn’t elim­in­ate it al­to­geth­er.

The task is a dif­fi­cult one, with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers pulling in dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tions. Re­finer­ies and auto­makers would prefer no blend­ing man­date at all, corn grow­ers want to max­im­ize the use of corn, and ag­ri­cul­tur­al in­terests are con­cerned that di­vert­ing corn for fuel is rais­ing food prices.

The man­date, cre­ated in 2005 and strengthened in 2007 in an at­tempt to wean the na­tion off for­eign oil, has come un­der bi­par­tis­an scru­tiny in the past year in the face of high corn prices and ma­nip­u­la­tion of the mar­ket the policy cre­ated.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­dustry source close to the com­mit­tee, law­makers are con­sid­er­ing a freeze on the amount of eth­an­ol re­finers can blend with gas­ol­ine — pla­cing it at or near the cur­rent level — along with ex­pan­ded waiver pro­vi­sions for states and a weighted cred­it sys­tem for re­finers selling bio­fuels on the basis of the fuel’s car­bon in­tens­ity.

Noth­ing is set in stone yet. And that’s got some oth­er­wise vo­cal lead­ers with­hold­ing opin­ions on any­thing short of a full re­peal of the man­date.

“Our long-stand­ing po­s­i­tion on this is­sue has been let’s fold up the tent on this pro­gram and get rid of it com­pletely,” said Thomas Pyle, pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an En­ergy Al­li­ance.

Pyle wouldn’t com­ment on oth­er po­ten­tial re­forms, though. “There hasn’t yet been a sub­stant­ive pro­pos­al show­ing a path to re­form, and you can’t com­ment on something you haven’t seen,” he said. “You hear lots of things but un­til there’s a pro­pos­al out there our ana­lysts can re­view, we’re just like every­one else, basing it on ru­mors and re­ports.”

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