Lawmakers Pump EPA for Lower Ethanol Mandate

Source: By Clare Foran, National Journal • Posted: Monday, November 4, 2013

An ethanol plant in Palestine, Ill.(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The battle over ethanol continues to rage as the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to release the 2014 renewable-fuel standard, a mandate determining the amount of biofuel refiners will be required to blend with gasoline next year.

Both supporters and opponents of the biofuels mandate have been making their cases before the public and the administration for months. Now, however, lawmakers are increasingly adding their voices to the conversation in an attempt to wrest power away from the agency and back to Congress.

Last Thursday, Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Jim Costa, D-Calif., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Steve Womack, R-Ark., sent a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 165 additional lawmakers from the House to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking for reduced requirements for corn ethanol next year.

The letter argues that the renewable-fuels standard raises corn prices and could damage car engines when the E10 blendwall—the point at which gasoline blends exceed 10 percent ethanol—is reached.

The letter defers to the EPA’s authority to carry out the recommendation. But in an interview with National Journal Daily, Welch emphasized that while he and other lawmakers want EPA to revise the mandate downward, RFS reform is an issue that should ultimately be decided by Congress.

“We want the EPA to use its authority given to it by Congress in the short-term to make a practical decision to keep the mandate from increasing,” Welch said. “But the entire ethanol mandate should be reconsidered by Congress. We want immediate action from the agency, but we’re going to continue to work in Congress to achieve broader reform.”

In April, Goodlatte, Welch, Costa, and Womack introduced a bill to amend the renewable-fuels standard by limiting the amount of ethanol that refiners would be required to blend with gasoline and cutting out the conventional biofuels mandate altogether.

The bill has not yet been reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, however, and faced with congressional inaction the lawmakers are seeking to influence EPA.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are also vying to amend the RFS through legislation.

Aides for both senators confirmed the two are working together to draft legislation to eliminate the corn-ethanol mandate from the RFS. The aides did not comment as to a possible release date, but a draft could surface sometime this week.

At least one representative from the biofuels industry expressed concern over the possibility of legislative tinkering with the standard.

“I’m disappointed that so many members of Congress would be uninformed and encourage the administration to reduce the RFS in this way, which really would be a retreat of the RFS which calls for increasing volumes of biofuels to be blended with gasoline,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, a group based in South Dakota. “We have a lot of confidence so far in how EPA has handled the administration of the RFS and we continue to believe that the place where the RFS can and should be adjusted is at the EPA.”

EPA is required by law to publish next year’s RFS this month, with the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, threatening to sue the agency if it does not finalize the 2014 standard by Nov. 30.