Ethanol industry begins ad push for Senate bill

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The ethanol industry is going on a public relations binge ahead of what could be an important test in the Senate.

The world’s largest ethanol producer, Poet LLC, has launched an advertising campaign in the nation’s capital, touting the corn-based fuel as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee prepares to vote on legislation eliminating seasonal restrictions on a higher-ethanol fuel.

Lawmakers haven’t said when they’ll vote. A spokeswoman for Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who’s pushing the legislation, said she’s received assurances from Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that he will hold a hearing and markup on her bill, the “Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act” (S. 517), which would lift seasonal limits on sales of E15.

Poet started the ads on cable and broadcast stations over the weekend, running them during Sunday morning news shows. They’ll air through the end of the year, the company said in a news release.

“Our scientists and engineers are driving new innovations every day, and we’re eager to share our passion for American ingenuity with our nation’s leaders inside the beltway and around the country,” Poet founder and CEO Jeff Broin said in a news release.

At issue are restrictions on the sale of E15 — which is 15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline — between June and September. U.S. EPA blocks sales during those months because of rules related to fuel volatility and ozone pollution, but the industry says the rules shouldn’t apply because E15 is no more volatile than E10, which is sold nationwide year-round.

The change is important to biofuels broadly and especially to makers of cellulosic ethanol, who’ve watched their business fall short of goals from the federal renewable fuel standard, said Poet’s vice president of federal advocacy, Rob Walther. Easing restrictions would allow for more of those products to enter the market, he said.

“We desperately need this relief,” Walther said.

Fischer secured Barrasso’s commitment during talks ahead of last week’s Senate consideration of methane regulations on federal lands. The methane bill failed, but Fischer and other corn-state senators consider the promise valid.

An industry lobbyist working on the issue said he’s been told a hearing could be scheduled for June, with a markup to follow in July.

The measure’s prospects remain to be seen. A hearing could help lawmakers become familiar with the issue, which isn’t big news outside of lead corn-producing states such as Nebraska and Iowa. The pro-ethanol lobbyist said he thinks it has a good chance of passage, pushed in part by Democrats’ renewed interest in rural issues after President Trump’s strong performance in those areas.

Barrasso has been an ethanol critic, calling for the repeal of the renewable fuel standard and urging EPA to suspend renewable fuel mandates amid complaints that high corn prices were affecting consumers (Greenwire, Dec. 12, 2013).

Another critic of the RFS, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), is on the committee as well.

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hasn’t promoted the RFS. But a company expanding E15 offerings, Kwik Trip Inc., is based in his home state and said it plans eventually to sell E15 in most of its more than 500 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

The Renewable Fuels Association supports a legislative solution, its president, Bob Dinneen, said in a statement. Absent legislation, the issue would fall to officials at EPA. But the agency’s ability to lift the restrictions without congressional action isn’t clear, Administrator Scott Pruitt has said (Greenwire, May 4).

Pushing against E15 is the American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas companies, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which cites potential damage to boat engines if E15 is inadvertently used in them.