Diverse coalition urges Obama admin officials to lower RFS targets

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 22, 2014

A strange-bedfellow coalition made up of environmental, conservative, oil, livestock, marine and motorcycle groups today met with Obama administration officials to urge them to not back off proposed cuts to the nation’s biofuels mandate.

The groups’ meeting comes as the White House is wrapping up a review of the final rule setting this year’s volume requirements for corn-based ethanol and advanced biofuel. U.S. EPA’s initial rule released in November called for a 16 percent cut in renewable fuel compared to the levels Congress wrote into the 2007 renewable fuel standard, though administration officials have said in public appearances that they will raise the targets in the final rule.

Coalition members present at today’s meeting said they told officials that the market will be forced to absorb more ethanol than it can handle if EPA raises its targets in the final rule.

They raised several concerns about the renewable fuel standard, including that ethanol emits high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and corrodes small engines when blended at levels higher than 10 percent, and brandished a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office that predicted higher gas prices under the RFS.

They also delivered a petition signed by 13,000 people who are in favor of the White House ratcheting down this year’s ethanol requirements.

“We emphasized to them now is the time for Americans to stop paying the price for the failed RFS policy,” said former Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), vice president for government relations at the American Motorcyclist Association, in a conference call after the morning meeting.

The groups at the meeting included American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Environmental Working Group, the National Turkey Federation, Boat U.S., the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Taxpayers Union.

At the meeting were representatives from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers and the Council on Environmental Quality. U.S. EPA also participated via phone, though the agency’s representative did not speak during the meeting, according to those present.

The officials did not give any indication of when EPA will release the final rule setting the 2014 renewable fuel volume requirements, nor what the final numbers will be, meeting participants said. Industry observers expect EPA to raise its proposed corn ethanol target of 13.01 billion gallons to as high as 13.6 billion gallons.

During the press call, coalition members said that they thought EPA’s lowering of the standard for this year was a good starting point but that they all advocated a congressional overhaul of the RFS. The groups say the RFS is causing the country to breach the blend wall, or the practical limit to the amount of ethanol that can be used in existing fuel infrastructure.

Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he told White House officials that the issues with the blend wall would become exacerbated as more cellulosic ethanol — an advanced biofuel that has only recently been produced in commercial quantities — becomes more widespread. Cellulosic ethanol up to now has been produced at levels far below those envisioned by the 2007 RFS.

“I wanted to point out to them that this is a highly dysfunctional program that seems to be sustainable now only because one part was a failure,” Lewis said.

Supporters of the RFS disagree about the need to make changes to the renewable fuel standard. Biofuel producers have also recently met with OMB as it completes its final review of the politically sensitive rule, pushing instead for the administration to raise the targets to levels contained within the RFS.

This weekend, advanced biofuels producers also ran advertising warning that the Obama administration is in danger of undercutting its climate change goals and risking sending investment overseas if it lowers the RFS (Greenwire, Sept. 22).