Ethanol backers on Hill and off press EPA on biofuel targets

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014

Midwestern lawmakers and their supporters off Capitol Hill continued to press U.S. EPA yesterday to increase its mandate this year for ethanol use.

Several Democratic House members met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to express their disappointment in her agency’s proposed rollback of 2014 targets for both ethanol and advanced biofuels on concerns raised by the oil industry.

And a military veterans group launched two television ads asking Iowans and Nebraskans to urge EPA to boost the renewable fuel standard’s targets for this year.

“Tell the EPA to stand up to Big Oil,” Michael Connolly, a veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq, says in both ads.

EPA proposed last fall to mandate that refiners this year blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum-based fuels — lower than the 18.15 billion gallons that Congress anticipated when it wrote the RFS into statute in 2007. EPA raised concerns that the nation was coming up on the “blend wall,” or the name for the limit to the amount of ethanol that can be blended in gasoline (E&ENews PM, Nov. 15, 2013).

The agency is collecting public comments on the proposal until Jan. 28; so far, more than 12,000 comments have been filed.

Midwestern lawmakers have consistently raised concerns about the proposal, citing ethanol’s economic importance to the rural heartland and warning that a rollback would mean lost jobs and shuttered facilities. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a champion of ethanol in the House, hosted the meeting with McCarthy on the Hill to air those concerns.

In a statement after the meeting, Peterson said he appreciated McCarthy’s willingness to meet with the House members.

“The rural economy has been one of the few bright spots in recent years, due in large part to the RFS,” Peterson said. “Reducing the RFS would not only have a negative impact on jobs and the rural economy, it would also halt advances in the next generation of renewable fuels.”

Peterson was joined by Minnesota Democrats Tim Walz and Rick Nolan; Iowa Democrats Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley; and Illinois Democrats Cheri Bustos and William Enyart.

Bustos said the proposal “defies common sense” and could drive up gas prices at the pump. Last November, she attended a “Protect the RFS Rally” at Patriot Renewable Fuels, an ethanol plant located on the western edge of her congressional district in Illinois.

Loebsack, along with his Iowa colleagues, recently pressed EPA to hold a hearing on the proposal in their state to allow more farmers and biofuel producers to air their concerns. EPA declined the invitation (E&ENews PM, Jan. 13).

In a statement after yesterday’s meeting, Loebsack said he was “pleased to have this opportunity to meet face to face with Administrator McCarthy and share directly with her the serious concerns I have heard from folks across the state about the negative effects lowering the RFS would have on our rural economy. The EPA must not continue to yield to the requests of Big Oil and ignore the impact on Iowa’s farmers, rural communities and economy.”

While the lawmakers work the administration in Washington, D.C., the veterans group,, yesterday said it had bought nearly $115,000 worth of media time to air its ads in Iowa and Nebraska. The ads feature images of war-torn nations and promote biofuels as a means of reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

VoteVets and left-leaning Americans United for Change launched a joint campaign to promote the renewable fuel standard shortly after EPA released its proposal for this year. The veterans group aired similar ads last week in Washington, D.C., and Iowa (Greenwire, Jan. 7).