Battle over E15 bill looms for Senate environment panel

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A battle over renewable fuels may hit the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week.

That’s what Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the chamber’s leading ethanol critics, expects. A Senate aide said he is drafting amendments to weaken renewable fuel mandates if legislation encouraging high-ethanol fuels comes to the committee.

The immediate issue is E15 fuel, which is made with 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline and isn’t available year-round because of U.S. EPA regulations.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told advocates he would take up the issue even though he’s opposed to ethanol mandates — a promise made earlier this year to secure their support on legislation killing methane regulations, which ultimately failed.

Barrasso hadn’t scheduled a markup as of last night. Republican Senate aides said it wasn’t certain, but that next week would probably be the last chance to vote on the matter before the August recess.

The issue divides the panel, as a hearing in June revealed (E&E Daily, June 15).

The ranking Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, said last month he’d likely oppose it unless changes are offered to the renewable fuel credit system that helps companies comply.

A Republican EPW Committee aide said Inhofe plans to lead opposition to expanded E15 sales, taking on Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

A spokeswoman for Fischer said she’s working with colleagues on planning for a potential markup; she’s the main author of the legislation, S. 517, which would lift seasonal restrictions that prevent sales of E15 from June to September.

In addition to a floor speech planned for today outlining his views on renewable fuel, Inhofe plans to offer amendments in committee to roll back measures such as fuel efficiency standards and rules for methane emissions, a Senate aide said.

Another potential amendment from ethanol critics would end renewable fuel mandates at the same time the expanded season for E15 takes effect, a lobbyist working on the issue told E&E News.

Ethanol advocates have pressed the legislation as a matter of fairness for retailers who want to sell the higher-ethanol fuel.

Seasonal restrictions, called Reid vapor pressure rules, are supposed to guard against ozone pollution — the main ingredient in smog — but E15 doesn’t pose any greater risk than E10 fuel, which is standard in most areas, according to ethanol industry groups.

As speculation about a markup grew, a labor union representing plumbers and pipefitters wrote yesterday to Barrasso and Carper in opposition.

“Rather than pushing through an increase in the ethanol concentration in gasoline, Congress should consider reforming the RFS to rectify the threats to domestic refining jobs and address the skyrocketing cost for credits needed to comply with the RFS [renewable fuel standard] that have put refining jobs, particularly on the East Coast, at risk,” said Mark McManus, president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.