Lawmakers look to move biofuel bill through House Energy Committee

Source: By Zack Colman - 04/10/13 04:11 PM ET, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is having discussions with the chairman of the House Energy Committee about bringing forward legislation to gut a federal biofuel law.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a bill co-sponsor, said his talks with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have left him “hopeful” about securing a hearing.

“There is growing support throughout the Congress,” Goodlatte said during a Wednesday news conference, with primary co-sponsors Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and others.

The bill, which was introduced Wednesday, would eliminate a mandate to blend 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol into transportation fuel by 2022, while leaving intact the 21 billion gallon mark for next-generation biofuels.

The bill also would ban fuel with an ethanol content greater than 10 percent, and require federal blending targets for next-generation biofuels to be set at actual production levels.

It’s the latest in a full-throttle campaign by oil-and-gas, food and green groups to tear down the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

Many on Capitol Hill are also giving the mandate a hard look.

In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, Upton and Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the House Energy Committee’s top Democrat, last month released the first of five white papers on the mandate.

Waxman recently told The Hill that the papers were exploratory, and that the committee hasn’t identified a legislative vehicle for changes. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, said the same.

The rule’s opponents, which range from the Environmental Working Group to the American Petroleum Institute (API), have grabbed lawmakers’ ears through an aggressive lobbying campaign.

API, which wants to repeal the entire rule, is leading the charge.

The oil-and-gas lobby is ramping up its efforts because the refining industry is approaching a so-called “blend wall.” The term refers to a need to blend fuels with a higher ethanol concentration to meet the law’s accelerating targets.

To cross that wall, the biofuel industry is trying to increase the market presence of a blend with a 15-percent ethanol concentration, known as E15. Standard fuel has a 10 percent ethanol concentration.

But API, automakers and boat manufacturers say E15 damages car engines.

Many automakers say warranties won’t cover such damage, despite the Environmental Protection Agency saying it’s safe for models made in 2001 or later.

Environmental groups and meat and poultry producers, meanwhile, want to dismantle the mandate’s corn-ethanol portion — which dominates the biofuel market — because they say it drives up food costs.

Welch said the biofuel rule has been a failure for both the environment and agriculture, both of which it was meant to help.

“It’s been brutal. So this was an idea that was, I will acknowledge, well-intended. But the evidence says it was very, very dumb,” Welch said.

Despite its vocal opponents and the flurry of bills in the legislative pipeline, the biofuel industry maintains it’s comfortable with its position.

“Intense attacks” in recent weeks have been “often based on misinformation,” Tom Buis, chief executive of biofuel trade group Growth Energy, said during a Wednesday press call.

Buis and other biofuel groups have cast API’s attacks as a way to preserve market share for petroleum in the face of increasing vehicle fuel economy standards and a sluggish economy.

Buis added that the argument that corn ethanol increases corn prices is incorrect, noting a good portion of it is recycled into feed for livestock. He also maintained that E15 is safe for cars.

Several of the group’s members are meeting with Midwestern lawmakers — who are generally staunch biofuel backers — on Wednesday and Thursday to secure support.

“When we educate policymakers, they get it, and they understand it. And I’m confident that we will be able to beat back the attempt by API, which has made the repeal of the RFS their No. 1 priority,” Buis said.