Jay Inslee could become ethanol’s worst enemy

Source: By John Siciliano, Washington Examiner • Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state poses a threat to Iowa’s corn ethanol producers in seeking to make his state’s climate proposals the law of the land.

Inslee said last week, following a campaign stop in Iowa, that he supports a Low Carbon Fuel Standard for the nation, akin to the one currently being considered by his state’s legislature.

“What we need to do nationally is what we are doing in Washington state,” Inslee said on a climate change panel at Washington University.

But what Inslee is proposing for Washington state is at odds with what ethanol proponents want done in D.C. Low Carbon Fuel Standard advocates in Washington, such as Carbon Washington, view corn ethanol skeptically, faulting it for producing more greenhouse gas emissions than other alternative fuels.

Carbon Washington, accordingly, says that the federal ethanol mandate program, the Renewable Fuel Standard, has been a failure because it has boosted the use of corn ethanol.

Environmental groups issued a study last week showing that the RFS has done more to harm the environment than help it by encouraging the use of corn and soybeans to be turned into fuel on a massive scale. The Environmental Protection Agency is slated to review the environmental benefits of the federal program next year.

The bill making its way through the Washington legislature, rather than mandating ethanol use, would incentivize electric vehicle growth by requiring a 10 percent reduction in carbon dioxide from the state’s transportation sector. It would also encourage the use of renewable diesel fuel and natural gas to cut emissions from buses and freight-hauling trucks.

In Iowa, Inslee generally sounded positive notes about clean energy, said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association president Monte Shaw, but he steered clear of direct support for the ethanol mandate.

“I really like what he said at a 50,000-foot level … but does that apply to corn ethanol?” Shaw said.

As far as Inslee wanting a Low Carbon Fuel Standard for the country, “the devil is in the details,” Shaw added.

The ethanol industry has experience with similar efforts. It fought a long legal battle with California over its low-carbon fuel program because of the penalties it imposed on corn ethanol.

In the end, the industry was able to change California’s use of a measure, which didn’t hold up under scientific scrutiny, for assessing the carbon emissions generated by renewable fuels to get the state to act more favorably toward ethanol.

Similarly, Shaw said, the acceptability of the Washington program would depend on the measure the state uses to assess fuel carbon intensity. It could be good for ethanol if it’s done correctly, he said.

Ethanol supporters point out that now, California uses a large amount of corn ethanol to meet its low-carbon goals. Without ethanol in the mix, its program would be a failure, Shaw said.

“Performance is what matters when it comes to a performance standard,” said Brooke Coleman, president of the industry group Advanced Biofuels Business Council. “So far, ethanol is responsible for 45 percent of the net carbon reductions achieved under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and that number continues to rise.”