Corn ethanol foes turn to Keystone XL bill 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A bipartisan group of senators Friday attempted to drum up support for an amendment to the Senate’s Keystone XL legislation that would strip corn ethanol from the renewable fuel standard.Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) offered the amendment Friday, one of several that senators are trying to attach to the legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is an original co-sponsor.

Congress passed the renewable fuel standard, a policy that provides for increasing amounts of ethanol and advanced biofuels to be used in gasoline, in 2007 as a means of increasing energy security and addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

But opponents of the corn ethanol portion say diverting corn to ethanol production drives up food costs and harms the environment. They also say there’s a blend wall, or a limit, to the amount of ethanol that can be used in vehicle and fueling infrastructure.

“The federal mandate for corn ethanol is both unwise and unworkable,” Feinstein, long a critic of conventional ethanol, said in a statement. “This bill is a simple and smart modification of the Renewable Fuel Standard program. Once we remove the corn ethanol mandate, the RFS program can finally serve its intended purpose: to support the development of advanced, environmentally friendly biofuels like biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol and other revolutionary fuels.”

A strange-bedfellow coalition of interests that includes environmentalists, livestock producers and the oil industry supports the amendment, which has only a slight chance of receiving a vote during debate over the Senate Keystone XL bill (see related story).

“The corn ethanol mandate is a loser for our air, our water and our climate,” said Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “We are thankful to Sens. Toomey and Feinstein for starting a meaningful discussion about RFS reform in 2015.”

Ethanol producers slammed the proposed amendment, which is identical to legislation introduced last Congress by Feinstein and former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

“This legislation is incredibly shortsighted,” said Tom Buis, CEO of the ethanol trade group Growth Energy. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of senators understand the importance of homegrown American renewable fuels. This amendment would eviscerate the RFS.”