Energy and Commerce: Refuge from ethanol ire

Source: By: Darren Goode, Politico • Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013

Pro-ethanol Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee see no reason to worry about their panel’s probe of the Environmental Protection Agency’s biofuel mandate, which the GOP-friendly oil industry is fighting hard to repeal.

They say the committee has become an oasis from Capitol Hill’s increasingly angry feud on an issue that’s pitting ethanol, oil and agriculture interests against one another other — and potentially against many in the GOP.

So, while Republican leaders on the House Oversight and Science committees issue harsh criticisms of the renewable fuel requirement, E&C leaders in both parties have taken a more measured tone so far, releasing four white papers asking interested parties for input.

Ethanol supporter and committee member Lee Terry (R-Neb.) says he has no concerns about how the panel is carrying out the inquiry.

“I am OK with what the committee is doing,” Terry said. “They’re taking a reasoned, more intellectual approach to it than maybe another certain committee that is not Energy and Commerce has on ethanol and alternative fuels.”

Asked to name that other committee, Terry said with a smile, “I think it’s called Natural Resources.” For the record, though, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said his panel isn’t really looking into the issue.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has likewise praised the ethanol inquiry as a “rare bipartisan move” on a panel that has been mostly split along party lines on issues like EPA rules and the Keystone XL pipeline.

The ethanol debate has showcased how some energy debates have traditionally been fought more along regional rather than partisan lines.

Terry said he and fellow Energy and Commerce Republicans John Shimkus of Illinois and Cory Gardner of Colorado “have kind of formed a pact” to try to protect the ethanol industry from too much interference with the mandate, which requires certain levels of ethanol to be blended in gasoline. That stance puts all three in opposition to the oil industry with which they have been allied on big issues like Keystone.

“Under our stated position of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, those of us who are ethanol supporters are also supporters of crude oil and refineries,” Shimkus said. “So this is sort of a battle among friends, at least on an elected-official level.”

“So far it’s been good, but we’ll see,” Gardner said regarding the panel’s probe. When the committee holds hearings later this summer, “we’ll find out then for sure, when people start putting out their words in public,” he said.

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said the plan is to hold at least one hearing on the renewable fuels mandate this summer, but a decision hasn’t been made to try to move a bill through the panel.

“We don’t know if we’re going to have legislation or not,” Whitfield said. “There’s so many different views, we just wanted to give everybody the opportunity to focus on it and then we’ll make some decisions.”

Panel leaders are completing a final white paper looking at renewable identification numbers, which document compliance with the biofuel mandate but have become the subject of widespread fraud. The price of RINs skyrocketed from pennies on the gallon to, briefly, more than $1 a gallon earlier this year, adding another wrinkle to the escalating war over the mandate.

While that fight is being waged off the Hill, the conversation among lawmakers so far has been merely simmering.

“We’re not out there really advocating because we know we’ve bought into the process on our committee, that it’s a fact-based approach and we’re going to see what comes from that,” Terry said.

He also said he and his allies aren’t spending a lot of time “trying to talk Texans or Louisianans out of hating ethanol,” noting that “we know we’re not really going to accomplish that.”

“But maybe we can work at more of a leadership level to make sure that if there is going to be some biofuel bill on the floor that it just not be an emotional ‘Let’s kill ethanol because we hate