Anti-hunger groups unhappy with senators’ support for strong RFS mandate 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2015

Environmental and anti-hunger groups are pushing back against senators who signed a letter urging U.S. EPA to set robust mandates for renewable fuels.

ActionAid USA, the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Working Group and Oxfam America yesterday told some of those senators that expanded biofuel production brought on by the renewable fuel standard (RFS) program was having unintended consequences on the environment and worsening global hunger.

Congress passed the RFS in 2007 to promote energy independence and reduce the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. Through it, EPA is required to set annual mandates for different types of renewable fuel, including conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels.

“With each passing month, we fall further from achieving the original goals of the RFS,” the four groups wrote. “When Congress crafted this policy, it was intended to benefit all Americans, but the RFS has instead resulted in delivery of benefits to a select few in the ethanol industry at the expense of everyone else.”

The groups sent the letter to the offices of Democratic Sens. Michael Bennett of Colorado, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The 11 senators were among a bipartisan coalition of 37 senators that in April urged EPA to set biofuel mandates that reflect the increasing levels that Congress intended in the 2007 law that created the RFS. The senators slammed EPA for the agency’s unsuccessful proposal that would have ratcheted down the 2014 mandates for renewable fuels (E&E Daily, April 24).

“The intent was a forward-looking policy that drives future investments in both biofuels production and the infrastructure necessary to bring these biofuels to market,” the senators wrote.

EPA is poised to release a new proposal this month that would set the targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 as part of a proposed settlement agreement with oil industry trade groups.

In their response to the senators, the environmental and anti-poverty organizations — which have all previously raised concerns about the RFS — charged that corn ethanol has failed to deliver on promised greenhouse gas reductions. They also argued that increased corn ethanol production spurred by the RFS has contributed to food price volatility.

“We know these unintended consequences must concern you, and we urge you to consider significant legislative measures to rectify them,” the groups wrote.

Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel of climate policy at the Clean Air Task Force, said the organizations chose the 11 senators out of the broader group for their past support for climate change and food security efforts.

“We reached out to those eleven senators because we were especially surprised they expressed support for the RFS in its current form,” he said in an email. “The RFS is undermining efforts to address climate change and to improve global food security, two issues where the senators tend to have strong track records otherwise.”

Ethanol producers have disputed the arguments raised in the organizations’ letter, pointing to studies that have found significant reductions in heat-trapping emissions from the production of ethanol compared to gasoline. They’ve also rejected claims that ethanol production is driving up food prices.