House bill seeks to revoke corn ethanol mandate

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the chairman of a key energy policy subpanel, introduced legislation yesterday that would remove the corn ethanol requirement of the federal renewable fuel standard and mandate that all biofuels in the standard come from domestic sources.H.R. 4849, the “Phantom Fuels Elimination Act”, would reverse the RFS’s directive that oil companies blend a certain number of ethanol gallons in the fuel supply each year. Last year, that amount was 13.8 billion gallons. U.S. EPA is deliberating the final RFS volumes for 2014 after a controversial proposed rule in November lowered the mandate for ethanol for the first time since the RFS’s inception.

“It is increasingly clear the RFS is not meeting its original purpose of achieving American energy independence, and its impossible mandates are needlessly overburdening American consumers, energy refiners and producers,” said Lankford, who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements.

The bill would also ban advanced biofuels, which include biodiesel and sugar cane ethanol, made outside of the United States. That is an attempt to limit the flow of Brazilian ethanol, which unlike corn ethanol qualifies as an advanced fuel because it emits less greenhouse gases over its life cycle.

Lankford said he calls these fuels “phantom fuels” because Americans don’t want them, or don’t know that they exist.

“We found that fuel blenders scrambled to comply with the RFS regulation,” he said. The term “phantom fuels” has been used by the oil industry to describe cellulosic biofuels, fuels from perennial grasses, agricultural and forestry waste, and other inedible plant material that has proved difficult to produce at commercial scale.

Lankford, who is running in a special Senate primary this year in Oklahoma, a large oil-producing state, also said that ethanol prices are rising in comparison to those of increasingly abundant fossil fuels.

The RFS requires oil refiners to blend 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act authorizes EPA to set annual volumes for conventional corn ethanol, advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel and cellulosic biofuels.

The RFS has been criticized by the oil industry, which says that too much ethanol in the fuel supply could damage engines. Livestock producers have also come out against the RFS, saying it raises the price of corn and animal feed. Some environmental groups opposed the standard for corn ethanol’s impacts on the environment.

The Renewable Fuels Association, a biofuel trade association, came out strongly against the legislation.

“Rep. Lankford suggests ethanol is a ‘phantom fuel,'” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “There is more than enough ethanol to meet the RFS. If it didn’t exist, the oil companies wouldn’t be fighting so hard to protect their monopoly over the nation’s fuel supply.”

Dinneen also countered Lankford’s claim that ethanol is becoming more expensive than oil, saying that ethanol is 50 to 60 cents cheaper than traditional gasoline.

“Ethanol stretches the domestic fuel supply and reduces the amount of petroleum needed in our gasoline, ultimately lowering the cost of crude oil,” he said.