Lawmakers frustrated at EPA over ethanol mandate delay

Source: By Timothy Cama, The • Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lawmakers vented their frustration at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday over its repeated delays of the annual ethanol mandate.

The Wednesday hearing in the House Oversight Committee’s subpanel on energy came weeks after the EPA announced that it wouldn’t make a 2014 ethanol blending requirement for fuel refiners until next year.

The few representatives present at the hearing ripped into Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting administrator for air and radiation.Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) pointed to the 2007 law creating the mandate for ethanol and the rest of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which said that each year’s volume requirements for gasoline and diesel refiners must be completed by the EPA by Nov. 30 of the prior year.

“We’re now more than a year past that deadline. We’ve waited and we’ve waited to move past proposal to final,” said Lankford, chairman of the subcommittee.

“We’re now over 370 days late and climbing. And the year will be entirely gone before we get the requirements for the year that’s already passed.”

The delay adds great uncertainty for refiners, producers and others involved in the industry, who have to guess how many gallons they have to blend or how many blending credits they have to buy, lawmakers said.

“We’ve got to get this fixed,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking member. “And while I understand that you’re working very diligently at it … it’s still not giving me the confidence that you’re fixing it.”

McCade recognized the problems her agency is causing and said that her staff is working hard on the volumes.

She said the delay boils down to two problems: Congress expected the cellulosic ethanol industry to be more developed than it currently is and it did not expect gasoline demand to fall as much as it has.

The latter problem has created a “blend wall,” in which increasing ethanol mandates would force more sales of gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol, which most engines cannot handle.

“These issues are both very challenging and very important to the future of the RFS program,” McCabe said. “And we recognize that our consideration of them has delayed the issuance of the 2014 standards.”

But her testimony did not please the panel’s members. They wanted her to tell them exactly when the EPA would finalize the standard, or at least the month.

“I can’t give you a date certain, congressmen, because rule-makings are not ones that I can predict,” she told Lankford.

Speier asked a similar question.

McCabe began to answer that her staff was working on it, but Speier interrupted.

“That’s gibberish, Ms. McCabe, I’m sorry,” she said.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) asked McCabe to set an internal deadline, even if she didn’t want to tell it to Congress.

“My mother always told me and I grew up believing a promise isn’t a promise unless there’s a deadline,” he said. “And I would encourage you, even if you don’t share that deadline with the committee, at least share it with your employees and hold them accountable.”