House Republicans, at hearing, call RFS a failure

Source: Jason Plautz, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012

House Republicans teed off on the renewable fuels standard, branding it a government mandate and failed policy during a politically charged hearing on alternative fuels yesterday.

The hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power featured cameo appearances by a string of familiar energy topics: Solyndra, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, fluctuating gas prices, extreme weather and ethanol subsidies all were topics of discussion. But the RFS also became the center of a heated debate, with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) blasting it as a “mandate” and questioning why none of his constituents were clamoring for a higher blend of ethanol.

The freshman Republican also derided alternative fuels as “consumer-rejected” and “imaginary.”

The RFS, created in 2005 and revised in 2007, mandates that the country produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, with more than half coming from cellulosic or advanced biofuels

However, critics said the goals were no longer feasible and that a lack of production from cellulosic sources was especially troubling. Gulf Oil CEO Joseph Petrowski expressed concern that blending ethanol into fuel could affect his business and create price volatility.

And American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard simply declared that the RFS had become “increasingly unrealistic, unworkable and a threat to consumers” because of blending requirements.

Volume requirements “would present an unacceptable risk to American car owners, who have invested billions of dollars in vehicles that were designed, built and warranted to operate on a maximum 10 percent ethanol blend,” Gerard said. “It also would put at risk billions of dollars of gasoline station equipment in thousands of retail outlets across America, most owned by small independent businesses.”

But biofuels promoters defended the policy as a success that not only has had environmental and security benefits but also has shown a viable path away from petroleum use. Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen testified that under the RFS, dependency on oil imports has dropped. In 2011, he said, ethanol displaced the equivalent of 477 million barrels of crude oil.

And Advanced Biofuels Association President Michael McAdams told the panel that the RFS is “the bedrock of our nation’s renewable transportation fuels policy” and will have great potential if cellulosic technology continues to grow.

Dinneen also was at the center of a spat with Pompeo when he declared that for 100 years, “we’ve had a mandate for gasoline,” in response to the freshman’s criticism of the RFS. Pompeo responded that repeated attempts to get his group to explain that comment have been unsuccessful.

The hearing was the committee’s 23rd on the House GOP’s American Energy Initiative and focused on alternative fuels and vehicles. The panel also heard testimony in support of electric and flex-fuel vehicles and natural gas.

Although there was disagreement about how involved the government should be — if at all — in promoting alternative fuels, both sides could agree on the need to diversify from petroleum. Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), who has backed natural gas support through legislation, said he would like to explore the advantages and drawbacks from each fuel alternative but that it was also necessary to “take steps to ensure plentiful and affordable supplies of petroleum and the fuels that are made from it.”

And ranking member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) used his opening statement to remind the panel that the wild swings in gas prices have made the energy discussion more frequent and necessary.

“Every year or two, we are in the same exact position … discussing extremely high gas prices,” Rush said.