Energy panel seeks answers ahead of next RFS hearing

Source: E&E • Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013

House energy leaders this week are wrapping up a review of the renewable fuel standard, the federal policy that mandates that the country blend 36 billion gallons of biofuel into the motor fuel supply by 2022.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) yesterday released the final edition in a series of white papers exploring different aspects of the standard. In it, they asked stakeholders to weigh in on whether U.S. EPA has acted appropriately in setting yearly biofuel targets and administering the ethanol credit trading program.

The committee is using the answers to this paper and the previous four editions as the basis for a series of hearings on the standard. The committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee kicked off the hearings last month by grilling officials from EPA, the Agriculture Department and the Energy Information Administration over ethanol’s impacts on food prices, greenhouse gas emissions and the rural economy (E&E Daily, June 27). The next hearing is expected to be held later this month, according to a committee aide.

In this final paper, Upton and Waxman are seeking answers on whether the cellulosic biofuel provisions in the standard are working as intended. EPA has drawn heat from the oil industry over its targets for cellulosic biofuel, a renewable fuel made from plant-based material, because they have consistently been higher than the amount of fuel actually produced in the marketplace.

The energy leaders are also asking stakeholders to weigh in on whether the agency has the capacity to oversee the ethanol credit trading program, given recent fraud cases in the biodiesel credit market and the rise in corn ethanol credit prices.

The battle over ethanol has heated up on Capitol Hill this year, and the previous four papers have drawn dozens of dueling comments from stakeholders who either defended the standard or urged its repeal. The June 26 hearing on the standard drew a standing-room-only crowd.

Fuels America, a coalition of biofuels, agriculture and national security interests, next week will hit congressional offices as the Energy and Commerce lawmakers prepare for their next hearing. The group is planning to bring in CEOs, farmers, scientists and other renewable fuel advocates from 10 states to talk about renewable fuels with both the House and the Senate.

At the first hearing, Upton said that he was coming into the whole exercise without any “preconceived notions” on the standard and that the purpose was to perform a “checkup” on the RFS.

It’s likely that the hearings and white papers will result in some sort of legislation addressing various perceived issues with the standard, rather than full repeal of the bill.

“There is some real problems caused by current law. Does that mean you rewrite the whole thing? I don’t think that’s the case,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a committee member with both ethanol and oil interests in his district, said in a recent interview.