Florida ethanol bill clears committee by a single vote

Source: James Call,The Florida Current • Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A bill that would repeal a state requirement that gasoline contain ethanol passed a House subcommittee on Tuesday by one vote.

HB 4001 by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, would repeal the requirement passed in 2008 as part of an energy bill championed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Gaetz last year proposed repealing the requirement but said Tuesday he settled on a “faux compromise” that made it clearer in state law that the sale of gasoline without ethanol is legal for use in boats, small motors, antique cars and other purposes.

Gaetz told the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee that HB 4001 this year is needed because ethanol is harmful to some engines, increases gas prices, increases food and grain prices, is bad for the environment because its production uses water and creates greenhouse gases.

He said the state ethanol requirement “tries to dictate consumer behavior.” And he said the energy market since last year has changed with huge shale oil reserves being discovered in the United States.

“All the investment in energy that is occurring today is occurring to refine and transport the massive amounts of cheap energy that exists in the Midwest,” Gaetz said.

Groups supporting the bill included the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the Marine Industries Association of Florida and the Southeast Milk cooperative. The Florida Petroleum Council is neutral on the bill, council Executive Director David Mica said.

Dan Cummings, vice president of external affairs for INEOS Bio in Vero Beach, said his company in 2012 completed a $130-million biofuels plant in Vero Beach with 400 construction jobs and more than 60 full-time jobs.

“Sending a message by repealing the RFS (renewable fuel standard) now sends a really chilling message not only to ourselves and emerging technologies but a lot of other companies that have invested money here,” Cummings said.

Democrats on the committee joined Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, in arguing against the bill. Her late husband, Stan, was House energy committee chairman in 2008 when it passed the requirement, and a University of Florida biofuels pilot project in Perry is named after him.

“We said that we were going to be a renewable energy state,” she said. “We were going to encourage businesses to come into the state of Florida to do this. When we are sending a message to them, ‘Sorry, we are changing our mind,’ that is not a good message to send out to businesses.”

After his bill passed the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee 7-6, Gaetz said a “big change” for the bill going forward is that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is not opposing it as he did last year.

“He is not supporting it,” Gaetz said, “but he is not opposing it, which is helpful.”

A spokeswoman for Putnam said the agriculture commissioner did not oppose the bill last year. A Miami Herald report in advance of the 2012 session quoted a neutral Putnam as saying the legislation sends the “wrong message” to the biofuels industry.

Putnam is not opposing the bill this year, spokeswoman Amanda Bevis said. But because a federal requirement for ethanol production remains in place, she said Putnam “does not feel that repealing the state ethanol requirement will have any impact on consumers.”