Fate of bill ending seasonal restrictions on E15 up in the air

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 21, 2017

A key lawmaker said he’s still leaning against a measure expanding offerings of higher-ethanol fuel, as plans to possibly bring the bill to a vote next week in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee appeared to stumble.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said yesterday he wants changes to the system of renewable fuel credits before he’ll support the legislation, S. 517 — and that discussions with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) haven’t produced such a deal.

“I don’t believe that’s something she’s prepared to do,” Carper told E&E News.

Late last night, Growth Energy — a lobbying group for ethanol — issued a statement saying the plan for a markup before the August recess, which was never certain, had fallen apart. A committee spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment last night.

“We will continue to work with our bipartisan sponsors to enact this bill to provide drivers across the country cleaner fuel options year-round that are better for the environment and save Americans money every time they fill up the gas tank,” the group said.

Industry lobbyists have been watching Carper’s vote since he said at a June hearing that he might not support the bill, based on certain conditions (E&E Daily, June 15).

At issue is whether Congress should end seasonal restrictions on the sale of E15 fuel, which is 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Due to ozone concerns, U.S. EPA doesn’t allow sales of E15 from June to September, although ethanol supporters say it doesn’t pose any more ozone threat than E10, which is standard fuel across the country.

Fischer’s bill would give E15 the same waiver of those rules that E10 receives, a top priority of ethanol producers and corn-state lawmakers. The vast majority of ethanol is made from corn.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) opposes the bill but agreed to take it up in a bargain over unrelated legislation dealing with methane regulations, where leaders needed as many Republican votes as they could muster. That legislation failed earlier this year.

Carper said he worries that the E15 bill boosts ethanol in a way that hurts refiners in his state who have to meet the mandate by buying renewable fuel credits known as RINs, for renewable identification numbers.

The credits have become expensive in recent years, and some refiners say RINS are one of their top operating costs. Critics say the markets lack transparency and are vulnerable to fraud.

Carper said he continues to hear complaints from plant operators, including the Delaware City Refining Corp., which employs around 1,000 people in his state.

“They’re convinced that this legislation, rather than helping their situation — unless we address the RINs volatility — this legislation will make their predicament worse,” Carper said.

“Given how long I’ve worked to save that plant, that refinery and the people’s jobs who work there, I cannot support the legislation in its current form,” Carper said.

How votes on the committee might line up is uncertain, especially with potential amendments. Some of those would scale back mandates for corn-based ethanol while leaving advanced biofuels in place.

Carper said he understands Fischer’s reluctance to tinker with RINs and said he urged her to talk with other senators.

“I’ve urged her to talk to colleagues,” Carper said. “Not through staff but directly to them, to find out where our colleagues really are on the legislation.”