156 House members urge EPA to waive renewable fuel standard

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 3, 2012

A bipartisan group of 156 House members called on U.S. EPA yesterday to reduce the federal ethanol mandate to account for the anticipated shortage in this year’s corn harvest.

Led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the lawmakers blamed ethanol for exacerbating the drought’s impact on the price of corn, which has risen more than 50 percent since June, peaking at $8 a bushel. An immediate waiver of the corn ethanol mandate in the renewable fuel standard (RFS) would provide relief for livestock producers and prevent spikes in the coming months in the supermarket, the lawmakers said.

“Prompt action by the EPA can help to ease short supply concerns, literally save jobs across many U.S. industries and keep families fed,” the lawmakers told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “We strongly urge you to exercise your authority and take the necessary steps to protect American consumers and the economy.”

The RFS mandates that refiners this year blend 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply. Goodlatte, who said he’s long been a critic of the standard, said he worried that the nation would not have a large enough corn crop this year to meet all its needs with the mandate in place.

The government “has made the unfair choice of choosing fuel over food,” Goodlatte said, speaking at a news conference today with Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA administrator is obligated to conduct an examination of the RFS only if the agency receives an official petition from a governor or from an obligated party, such as a refiner. The lawmakers, however, said they hoped their letter would prompt Jackson to use her authority to temporarily halt the standard.

Goodlatte said he also knew of governors who are considering an official request but declined to provide names.

The House lawmakers’ letter is the latest in a series of calls for EPA to waive the standard — a drive promoted mostly by the livestock industry, which says ethanol has driven up feed prices. Earlier this week, livestock groups also filed a petition with EPA asking for up to a one-year waiver of the corn ethanol mandate (Greenwire, July 30).

A group of bipartisan senators are also working on a similar request (E&E Daily, Aug. 1).

The ethanol industry has been aggressive in defending its product. In a news conference held in the wake of the House letter’s release, the nation’s two largest ethanol trade groups, the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, maintained that the drought and high oil costs are to blame for corn prices, not ethanol

“It’s really a shame that the critics are trying to take the drought and turn it around and blame ethanol for it,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said today.

Buis and Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen pointed to about 2.5 billion renewable fuel credits that are available for refiners to meet the standard. Waiving the mandate, they said, would not have a significant effect on corn prices.

The Obama administration has signaled that it does not intend to waive the standard. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, recently told reporters that there was “no need to go to the EPA at this point in time” over corn ethanol.

After the news conference, Goodlatte had harsh words for Vilsack.

“That’s very disappointing that the former governor of Iowa, where they grow a lot of corn but where they also produce a lot of livestock, would decide to choose winners and losers between food and fuel,” he said.

While the House members today called for temporary action, they also said they would push for a permanent fix to what they called a broken policy.

Goodlatte and Costa have filed legislation that would waive the standard whenever corn dips below a certain supply level, not just on a case-by-case basis.

“The bottom line is this: Renewable fuel standards ought to be changed,” Costa said. “We should not be using food to produce fuel for the United States of America. We have a lot of other energy tools in our energy toolbox, and food does not need to be one of them.”

Goodlatte has also filed legislation that would repeal the standard.

Both he and Costa, however, said they were still in support of advanced biofuels, which also get a boost from the RFS.

“If we can transition to cellulosic ethanol, there may be a future for ethanol production,” Goodlatte said. “But if we’re going to continue to rely on corn and have the government choose fuel over food, we’re going to continue to have rising food prices more than offsetting whatever benefit we derive from fuel production.”