Industry lobby optimistic after Hill meetings 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ethanol producers and supporters who were in town this week say they are going back home optimistic about their chances in Congress.

More than 70 members of the South Dakota-based American Coalition for Ethanol met with congressional offices representing 43 states yesterday and Tuesday. Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said that the nearly 160 meetings showed there was no “growing momentum” to reform or repeal the renewable fuel standard, the nation’s landmark biofuels policy.

“My take is that we continue to play really good offense by playing defense on the RFS,” Jennings said in an interview with E&E Daily yesterday after the meetings were over. “There’s a lot of noise, but there’s no genuine effort underway to tinker with, to mess with the renewable fuel standard.”

Several bills have been introduced this Congress in the House and Senate that take aim at the RFS, which Congress passed in 2007 to compel refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol and advanced biofuels in petroleum fuel.

Earlier this month, the Advanced Biofuels Association — a trade group that represents about 30 advanced biofuels producers — roiled the debate over the RFS by throwing its weight behind reform of the standard for the first time, pointing to the delays at EPA in setting yearly mandates under the policy as a reason for legislative reform (Greenwire, March 11).

Other biofuel groups have sought to distance themselves from the group’s new position: “You never want to see a so-called advanced biofuel supporter say that they aren’t on the team anymore,” Jennings said.

A broad coalition of oil, livestock, environmental and anti-poverty groups were already pushing for reform or repeal of the standard.

So far, energy leaders in both the House and Senate have been focusing on other areas, though they haven’t closed the door on taking up the renewable fuel standard sometime this Congress. Jennings said that ABFA’s policy shift did not come up during the meetings on Capitol Hill this week.

While Jennings expressed optimism about the RFS, he said that ethanol supporters were concerned about the possibility of attaching policy riders on appropriations legislation aimed at ethanol and the RFS.

“The appropriations riders are always something you’ve got to be careful about,” he said. “Because eventually these appropriations bills have to be enacted — not through regular order, individually like they did it in the old-fashioned days — but rolled up into an omnibus.”

Earlier this week, a coalition of bipartisan House members called on agriculture appropriators to restrict funding for ethanol infrastructure and exports in their fiscal 2016 spending plan for the Agriculture Department (E&E Daily, March 25).

The 18 members charged that the government had created an artificial market for ethanol that was having negative impacts on the environment, food production and consumers.

Growth Energy, a separate ethanol trade group, yesterday slammed the lawmakers’ letter, charging that it was based on a flawed “food versus food” reasoning.

“This request is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by special interests to push their agenda through Congress,” Tom Buis, CEO of the group, said in a statement. “This request is a waste of time and effort and should be treated as such.”