Lawmakers push to repeal part of ethanol mandate

Source: By Christopher Doering, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, February 27, 2015

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A bipartisan bill in the Senate would repeal a key part of the country’s ethanol mandate requiring that a specific amount of the fuel be made from corn.

The bill, introduced Thursday by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the latest attempt to overhaul the Renewable Fuel Standard — a law that requires refiners to buy alternative fuels made from corn, soybeans and other products to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign energy. A similar measure to strip out corn was proposed earlier this year as part of the Keystone XL pipeline debate but it never came up for a vote. 

Critics of the mandate, including the American Petroleum Institute, argue lawmakers were too aggressive in setting the blending levels in 2007. They also contend that continuing to boost the amount of corn used in ethanol would raise prices for the grain, affecting everything from gasoline to groceries.

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

Ethanol producers, who have dug in to defend the mandate from cuts in Congress and from rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency, said the legislation is misleading and the bill’s authors don’t understand how the fuel is made. Oil, not corn, is the cause of higher food prices, they said. 

“Just like their previous failed attempt, this legislation is incredibly shortsighted,” said Tom Buis, chief executive of Growth Energy. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of senators understand the importance of homegrown, American renewable fuels.”

Iowa produced 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol last year. That’s more than the amount produced in any other state and accounts for about 27 percent of total U.S. production.