Koch lobbyist urges Senate to repeal RFS 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 20, 2015

A Koch Industries lobbyist urged the Senate this week to repeal the renewable fuel standard rather than vote for reform measures.

Philip Ellender, president of government and public affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, called on senators in a letter Wednesday to reject legislation introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The bill would strip corn ethanol from annual RFS mandates.

Eliminating corn ethanol from the RFS, Ellender said, would benefit “extreme environmental interests” and make the national fuel system “look like California.”

“The RFS is an unqualified failure that should be repealed in full,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, there are some who are using the well-publicized problems with the RFS to advance ‘reform’ that actually makes matters worse. The Feinstein-Toomey legislation is one of those efforts.”

Congress passed the renewable fuel standard into law in 2007 to require that refiners blend corn ethanol and advanced biofuels into petroleum fuel. Supporters say that the standard has promoted energy independence and spurred growth in rural America, but critics argue that the expanded corn ethanol use brought on by the RFS has increased the price of food and had environmental consequences.

Feinstein and Toomey introduced their legislation to strip corn ethanol out of the RFS in February. The legislation would keep the rest of the RFS’s requirements for advanced biofuels intact (Greenwire, Feb. 26).

“The federal mandate for corn ethanol is both unwise and unworkable,” Feinstein said then. “Our bill addresses that with a simple, smart modification to the renewable fuel standard program.”

Koch subsidiary Flint Hills Resources owns seven ethanol plants.

Ellender argued that taking corn ethanol out of the RFS would have big economic consequences because it would ban “the only economic form of ethanol today.” He noted that the commercialization of advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol made from non-food plants, that qualify for the RFS has been slow and costly.

The net effect, he said, would be a transfer of wealth from American consumers to environmentalists and companies that want to profit “not through the economic means but through mandates.”

“Do we really want our national fuel transportation system to look like California — which has enacted expensive low carbon fuel standards and other mandates that drive up gasoline costs for consumers?” the letter says.

The American Council on Renewable Energy today pushed back against the letter and urged Congress to continue support for the renewable fuel standard.

“The Kochs’ efforts to undermine clean energy in this country isn’t surprising, but it certainly puts them on the wrong side of history,” said Jeramy Shays, ACORE’s director of transportation. “Frankly, the incumbent oil sector is facing a legitimate threat to their market share from renewable, homegrown biofuels. Ethanol, offering strong value as an octane booster and a lower price at the pump, is increasingly competing against petroleum in the domestic fuels market.”

There have been several RFS reform bills introduced this Congress, but so far none has advanced this Congress; U.S. EPA’s failure to set RFS mandates for 2014 and beyond has largely stymied those reform efforts.

The Koch letter was sent a few days after EPA announced a proposed settlement with oil industry trade groups in which it promised to propose 2014 and 2015 RFS targets for ethanol and advanced biofuels by June 1 and finalize them by Nov. 30 (E&ENews PM, April 10).