Barrasso makes true on promise with E15 hearing

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017

Promoters of high-ethanol fuel, who have sought more attention from Congress for years, get their wish this week with a hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who’s been critical of renewable fuels policy, is keeping a promise made to pro-ethanol colleagues by giving them a hearing on legislation allowing fuel that’s 15 percent ethanol to be sold year-round.

The bill, the “Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act” (S. 517), sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), would lift seasonal restrictions that keep E15 out of pumps between June and September.

Organizations testifying include the Advanced Biofuels Business Council and Sheetz Inc., which owns gas stations that have been expanding offerings of E15. The committee will also hear from Briggs & Stratton, a maker of small engines that has warned against use of E15 in them.

Fischer and other corn-state Republicans pushed for the hearing in exchange for supporting unrelated legislation on regulation of methane. The methane measure failed, but the ethanol promise remained.

A public relations campaign has heated up ahead of the hearing. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization released a study saying the legislation would save between 7 million and 10.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over a decade, equal to taking as many as 2.2 million cars off the road.

Growth Energy, the pro-ethanol trade group, said it was launching an ad campaign of $1 million or more to promote the bill.

“This campaign will highlight how red tape is limiting consumer choice at the pump, denying drivers access to cleaner, more affordable fuel options,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in a news release.

But ethanol critics say that the fuel damages small engines and older cars and that, despite signs warning them not to do so, consumers can misfuel at the pump.

Prospects for Fischer’s legislation aren’t clear, say lobbyists, who are selling it as a free-market issue rather than linking it to ethanol mandates that draw skepticism from Barrasso and others.

The adjustment for E15 could come through administrative changes at U.S. EPA or through legislation, supporters say. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has spoken positively of expanding offerings but said he wasn’t sure his agency could do so without legislation from Congress.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, June 14, at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Brooke Coleman, executive director, Advanced Biofuels Business Council; Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel, Clean Air Task Force, Boston; Mike Lorenz, executive vice president, Sheetz Inc.; Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO, Briggs & Stratton Corp.; and Janet Yanowitz, principal engineer, Ecoengineering Inc.