Bipartisan Senate group being formed to study RFS

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012

Senators are forming a bipartisan study group to assess the federal renewable fuel standard, according to a memo obtained by Greenwire.

The group will examine how the RFS affects the fuel market and technology development in an effort to determine “which provisions are working and which provisions could be improved,” the memo says.

“The intent of the study group is to put the key biofuels and RFS elements on the table for a more in-depth discussion and analysis of issues,” it says. “This Senate study group is intended to be a constructive, bipartisan forum to learn about and discuss key issues among the staff members on key committees of jurisdiction.”

The Biofuels Investment and RFS Market Congressional Study Group is being led by staffers of Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), according to Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey. A Coons staffer would neither confirm nor deny the plans to create the group.

Dempsey said a number of other senators are expected to join, including Delaware Democrat Tom Carper.

Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is no fan of corn ethanol. The RFS mandates U.S. production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 with 15 billion gallons coming from corn ethanol.

Inhofe voted against the RFS in 2007 and last year introduced legislation that would allow states to opt out of the corn ethanol portion of the standard, saying it was a response to complaints from constituents who complained they could not find gasoline free of ethanol.

While Coons has supported advanced biofuels, he has also been critical of corn ethanol, saying higher corn prices have made it harder for Delaware poultry producers to compete in the marketplace.

The study group plans to host a series of briefings to explore how the RFS has contributed to reduced use of petroleum in the transportation sector and how it has affected commodity prices, the memo says.

The group also plans to explore fraud in the renewable fuel credit-trading market, biofuels’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, infrastructure challenges in the marketplace and investments in biofuels.

The biofuels industry, which has strongly supported the RFS, criticized the study group’s plans.

Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition on Ethanol, said that he would welcome a fair and balanced analysis of the RFS but that the plan appears to be a “not-so-veiled attempt to discredit and dismantle the RFS.”

“By looking at the preliminary list of panelists, including the National Chicken Council, Turkey Federation and Big Oil lobby,” Jennings said, “it is clear this is designed to let folks who feel entitled to cheap corn forever and who prefer our status-quo reliance on fossil fuels to complain about ethanol.”

Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, expressed similar concerns.

“Obviously, we have some concerns as to the tone and ultimate outcome of this effort,” Hartwig said in an email, “given that it is being led by members with significant special interests in their home states diametrically opposed to renewable fuels.”

The list of panelists has not been finalized, Dempsey said. He indicated there would be “pretty broad outreach” to both ethanol-industry representatives and RFS opponents.

Dempsey said that the group’s overall goal is to study the RFS, not to come up with legislation.