Federal ethanol mandates draw raves, rants at hearing

Source: By Joseph Morton / World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — Iowa farmer Pam Johnson offered a stout defense Wednesday of federal ethanol mandates.

But the president of the National Corn Growers Association must have felt a little lonely as she testified before a House subcommittee about the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“It has created jobs, lessened our dependence on foreign oil and improved the environmental footprint of our nation’s transportation fuels,” Johnson said of the standard.

Several other witnesses at the table next to Johnson beat the drum to significantly alter or eliminate the standard.

» Bill Roenigk of the National Chicken Council said his producers are confronting higher and more volatile feed prices, the result of diverting corn into gas tanks.

» Ed Anderson of the National Council of Chain Restaurants said higher food prices hammer fast-food establishments.

» Scott Faber from the Environmental Working Group said the corn ethanol mandate has increased greenhouse gas emissions and caused other environmental harm.

It was the second day of testimony on the mandate that requires the oil industry to blend a certain amount of renewable fuel, such as ethanol, into the gasoline supply.

Pro-ethanol policies such as the fuel standard have created a huge increase in U.S. ethanol production over the years, with still-higher targets for production in the future.

That has proved to be a boon to grain farmers and certain parts of farm country, but it’s disrupting other sectors.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s sessions featured statements from panel members and witnesses that alternatively characterized the fuel standard as a cure-all or a nightmare.

Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute described it as “completely untethered from reality” and a “grave economic threat” that must be stopped.

Immediately following those remarks, Bob Dineen of the Renewable Fuels Association said that by any measure the standard is an “unmitigated success” that has reduced the country’s dependence on foreign oil, created investments in technology and economic growth in rural America, and saved taxpayers money through lower farm payments.

Over the course of the two days, the hearing sometimes got contentious.

In his testimony, Roenigk sought to make the point that while corn-based ethanol is considered a “renewable fuel,” it is typically produced using commercial fertilizers that come from nonrenewable sources.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., described the point as “silly.” When pressed by Terry, Roenigk mentioned organic fertilizers.

“So it can only be pig crap that we can put on there and then it’s renewable under your standards?” Terry asked.

After the hearing, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said in an interview that it was unclear which way the committee would go on legislation but that there was still a desire to try to use the fuel standard to address problems.

“I honestly don’t believe that many people think we’ll be repealing it,” he said.