Clinton campaign studies potential RFS revamp

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 5, 2016

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign Wednesday sparked controversy by reaching out to California regulators about potentially reworking the renewable fuel standard.

Reuters reported that campaign officials met with Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, to discuss whether policies like the state’s market-based Low Carbon Fuel Standard could be applied on the national level to replace the RFS, which requires biofuels to be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply.

California’s regulation requires a 10 percent reduction in emissions from transportation fuels by 2020 but leaves it up to companies to decide how to reach that target.

The RFS, which is set to expire in 2022, has come under fire from environmentalists and the oil lobby because they say it gives a subsidy to the corn industry, which produces ethanol, one of the most widely used biofuels, while doing little to reduce emissions.

But the move by the Clinton campaign could spell trouble in corn-producing states like Iowa, where Clinton faces a difficult battle against Republican nominee Donald Trump. The Cook Political Report rates the state as a tossup in November’s general election.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime supporter of the RFS and the biofuel industry, said the California standard was based on “scientifically questionable rationale.”

“Any proposal that opens up or undermines the RFS and results in less ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic biofuels is a nonstarter with those of us who understand the value of renewable fuels and the potential for industry innovation to continue indefinitely,” he said.

Grassley also said the campaign’s meeting with state regulators was a shift away from Clinton’s earlier stance on the RFS.

“She supported RFS/ethanol NOW she seems to looking way [to] back out,” he saidon Twitter.

Other ethanol proponents were not as quick to criticize Clinton, who has expressed support for the RFS in the past.

“I think too much is probably being made of one comment,” said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. “The campaign was quick yesterday to try to clarify it.”

He added, “I would look at the existing renewable fuel standard as a surrogate low-carbon fuel standard anyway because it is in fact requiring the use of low-carbon fuels.”

In a 2015 op-ed published in Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, Clinton wrote that “we have to get the RFS back on track.”

Her campaign said yesterday that Clinton was seeking advice for improving the national standard from “a diverse set of stakeholders.”

Campaign spokesman Tyrone Gayle said Clinton “does not support replacing the RFS with a national low-carbon fuel standard.”

But Dinneen said the California law may not be the way to go when a replacement for the RFS law is debated in 2022.

“I understand where Grassley’s coming from because the low-carbon fuel standard, as California has implemented it, really penalizes corn ethanol,” he said. “And one of the things that we’re going to be looking for as the program evolves is that the science be done right.”