Energy and Commerce panel launches series of hearings on RFS

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 24, 2013

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will kick off a much-anticipated series of hearings Wednesday on the renewable fuel standard, the federal policy that mandates the country blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into the U.S. motor fuel supply by 2022.

The Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing will cover “government perspectives” on the RFS and draw from white papers issued by the leaders of the full committee. The papers have drawn dozens of dueling comments from stakeholders who either defended the standard or urged its repeal.

All hearing witnesses this week will be government officials, the subcommittee’s majority staff said. Energy and Power Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), though, said in a recent interview that he was more interested in hearing from private stakeholders.

“We want everybody to talk,” Whitfield said. “I’m not much concerned about who comes from the government side; I’m more interested in the people out in the country who are being affected by it. We want to listen to all of those groups.”

Through the 5-year-old renewable fuel standard, U.S. EPA sets yearly targets for both conventional ethanol and next-generation biofuels. This year, refiners must blend 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol; the agency has proposed a target of 2.75 billion gallons of advanced biofuel, though the proposal is not yet finalized.

Biofuel supporters say the standard is necessary to wean the nation off foreign oil, but the RFS has fallen out of favor in the livestock and oil-refining regions. Opponents have linked it to high food prices and gasoline costs, and several lawmakers have introduced or signed onto legislation that would roll back parts of the standard or repeal it in its entirety.

In the Energy and Power Subcommittee, Vice Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) are co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal the standard, while Olson has introduced a separate measure to open the RFS to natural gas (Greenwire, May 15).

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who hails from a major ethanol-producing state, is a known supporter of the fuel and has introduced legislation that would ease liability concerns that refiners have about producing gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (Greenwire, March 18).

The white papers have allowed the committee to take a balanced look at the standard, ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said last week. The papers have addressed the RFS’s impacts on national security, greenhouse gas emissions, ethanol use for motor fuel, and agriculture and livestock production.

“It has been more than five years since the RFS was last revised, and there is now a wealth of actual implementation experience with its use,” Waxman and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) write. “In some respects, the RFS has unfolded as expected, but in others it has not.”

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, June 26, at 1:30 p.m. in 2123 Rayburn.