Groups square off at listening session on RFS

Source: Daniel Bush, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 6, 2013

Supporters and opponents of U.S. EPA’s proposal to lower the federal targets for corn-based ethanol and advanced biofuels next year doubled down on their positions at a marathon listening session today attended by dozens of industry, agriculture and environmental groups.

After days of messaging, more than 130 speakers at the session in Arlington, Va., weighed in on the agency’s plan to require refiners to blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum-based gasoline and diesel next year, a 2.94-billion-gallon reduction from the target set by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The plan marks the first time EPA would lower targets for corn ethanol and advanced biofuels.

Environmental groups, farmers, agriculture economists and other biofuel advocates argued that lowering the renewable fuel standard, or RFS, would represent a significant setback for the growing biofuel industry, cost thousands of jobs and drive up greenhouse gas emissions.

Calling the growth of biodiesel production an “unmitigated RFS success story,” National Biodiesel Board Vice President Anne Steckel said the proposal would close plants across the country that have benefited from the renewable fuel mandate.

Mark Recker, a farmer and chairman of the Iowa Corn Growers Association’s political action committee, said lowering the mandate would harm an Obama administration goal of reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

“As farmers, we take a lot of pride in knowing that we’re replacing foreign oil with renewable fuel made here in the United States,” Recker told the EPA panel. “Why in the world would we turn the clock back now?”

Some of the harshest criticism of EPA came from elected officials opposed to the RFS cutback.

“The EPA is now caving in to the demands of Big Oil, [which] has always resisted renewable fuel,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), whose state is a leader in corn, soybean and biodiesel production. He added, “The president got his start in Iowa, and people today are feeling betrayed.”

But supporters of the plan pushed back, saying it would help lower rising food prices and demonstrates that EPA believes the United States has reached the “blend wall,” or point where refiners claim they can no longer blend more ethanol into fuel.

“The blend wall is a real threat,” said Timothy Columbus of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America. “The red light is blinking.”

Bob Greco, the downstream group director at the American Petroleum Institute, said EPA’s plan represents a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.

“We will continue to call on Congress to repeal the RFS to protect consumers from this outdated and unworkable program once and for all,” Greco said.