Grassley says White House intervention needed to change to ethanol mandate proposal

Source: by Christopher Doering, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday President Obama must get involved in the debate over the country’s ethanol policy or risk handing “a big victory” to the oil industry.

During a call with reporters, Grassley said the November proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the blending level requirements for renewable fuels in 2014 would likely move forward, despite pressure from ethanol groups and members of Congress, unless the White House chose to step in. The measure has been met with intense opposition from Iowa’s Washington delegation and Gov. Terry Branstad who have lobbied the EPA to rescind the reduction amid fears it could cost the state jobs and income.

“The White House is going to have to step in, the president personally, I think this is what it is going to take in the final analysis,” said Grassley. “If he doesn’t step in, this is a big win for Big Oil, and I can’t see the president wanting (this), since he’s been on Big Oil, wanting to tax them more (and) not drill on public land. I would think that he would not want to give Big Oil a big victory but that’s what he’s going to do.”

The proposal by the EPA, which oversees the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard, would cut the fuel requirement in 2014 to 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels, 3 billion gallons less than Congress required in a 2007 law. It would mark the first-ever drop in the Renewable Fuel Standard that requires refiners to blend ever increasing amounts of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline supply through 2022.

Since the EPA first proposed the cut in November, supporters of biofuels in Iowa and other ethanol-producing states have mounted an all-out blitz geared toward convincing the EPA to scrap the cut. The effort has included rallies, meeting with White House officials and flooding the airwaves with commercials promoting the fuel.

Branstad and a delegation of Midwestern leaders are holding a public hearing Jan. 23 in Des Moines on the proposal to rollback the Renewable Fuel Standard, even though the White House rejected their request to host it.

“We’re still trying to marshal opposition to the EPA proposed reduction of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Grassley who plans to attend the hearing in the afternoon. The Iowa lawmaker also said this week he is circulating a letter with Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., to collect support from Senate leaders opposing the EPA’s proposed reductions in the ethanol mandate.

Grassley said he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see the EPA extend a 60-day public comment period to discuss the proposed changes that currently is slated to end Jan. 28.

So far, the agency has received 13,350 responses, including many from Iowa, the country’s largest ethanol producer with 41 plants capable of producing more than 3.7 billion gallons annually. The lion’s share of the responses collected and posted by the government are from local residents or anonymous individuals. Most people oppose the EPA’s reduction.

Robert Brown, director of Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute, was more confident. He said he was optimistic the EPA would decide to increase the blend level from its November proposal when it issues the final rule expected in the spring

“If there is a change I think it will be a lot more generous than what the EPA is proposing currently,” said Brown. “Those that support renewable fuels will have some success in making their case,” he said.