Lawmakers eye ethanol mandate revamp next Congress

Source: Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2018

House Energy and Commerce lawmakers expressed hope yesterday about the future of biofuels reform legislation in the new Congress.

The Subcommittee on Environment reviewed Chairman John Shimkus’ discussion draft, which proposes a national octane standard he said would help increase demand for renewable fuels beyond volumes mandated under the renewable fuel standard.

Any reform to the RFS is a hard lift, with advocates and interests on both sides often talking past each other. Yesterday’s hearing, however, was largely cordial.

Shimkus (R-Ill.) said the language would lead a transition from blend-specific mandates to performance-based standards for future fuels and vehicles, and remove barriers to the availability and usability of higher-ethanol blends.

He added that it would provide certainty for advanced biofuels and harmonize EPA and Transportation Department vehicle efficiency programs.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the discussion draft wasn’t perfect, but many of them praised the opportunity to tackle the issue.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said current law would be “unworkable” when EPA takes over the renewable fuel levels after 2023.

“They don’t have any magic wands over there,” he said. Barton said lawmakers have a “good chance” to get somewhere on the issue next Congress.

The discussion draft would require vehicles built after 2023 to be designed to use fuel that contains up to 20 percent ethanol.

The measure would provide a transition from the RFS and remove barriers that limit consumer choice, said Shimkus. EPA would take over setting the renewable fuel levels after 2023.

“While the RFS does not end in 2022 … it does evolve in a scenario where EPA has enormous discretion to set levels based upon a bunch of unweighted factors,” Shimkus said. “That should scare everyone, and that’s part of the reason why we’re trying to move to certainty versus uncertainty.”

Subcommittee ranking member Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) expressed disappointment that the bill did not address climate change or further promote electric vehicles. He specifically hit on the draft’s proposed changes to the corporate average fuel economy program.

“If CAFE compliance will become easier through a high octane performance standard — on top of the administration’s freeze of previously announced standards — I do not think we should also provide additional credits to achieve compliance,” Tonko said.

Some witnesses expressed concern for small refineries that would have to make costly changes in the future. Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) questioned why a small refinery would pay to change if a “Green New Deal” were to come to fruition and fill the streets with electric vehicles.

Emily Skor, CEO of advocacy group Growth Energy, assured McKinley that “liquid fuels will be dominant for years to come.”

Geoff Cooper, the president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said his group did not support the discussion draft.

He said the legislation “falls short of providing the future market certainty and clear growth trajectory our industry needs.”