Lawmakers spar over renewable fuel standard

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) yesterday defended the federal renewable fuel standard, circulating a letter that rebuts several claims made by four of their colleagues.

In their “dear colleague” letter, the two corn-state lawmakers argued that the RFS was providing “tangible benefits.” They included a nine-page document disputing claims made April 27 by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Pa.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.).

“The facts clearly underscore why Congress should continue to support the RFS,” Shimkus and Peterson wrote.

The RFS, created in 2005 and revised in 2007, mandates that the country produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, with more than half coming from cellulosic or advanced biofuels. In their April letter, Goodlatte and his colleagues called the standard a “broken” policy.

“The reality is the RFS is a de-facto mandate for corn ethanol, which is damaging our economy, driving up food prices and degrading our natural resources, without achieving the energy independence once promised,” the lawmakers wrote.

They included their own fact sheet that showed the RFS has failed to build energy independence and said that ethanol could increase gas prices for drivers. They criticized incentives that led to taxpayers spending $17 billion from 2005 to 2009 to subsidize ethanol.

The four lawmakers also said the standard has driven people globally into poverty and cited a study by the National Academy of Sciences that found the RFS would increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The RFS has also contributed to higher domestic corn and food prices, they said.

“This is a broken policy for Americans,” they said. “Congress created this artificial market and we must provide relief from its unintended consequences.”

Last year, Goodlatte introduced H.R. 3097, which would waive the standard’s requirements if the country’s corn stocks dropped below a certain level. Moran and Matheson were among 30 co-sponsors.

In their letter sent yesterday, Shimkus and Peterson blasted the facts presented by their four colleagues. They cited studies that said ethanol has helped reduce gas prices and noted that the ethanol industry did not fight for an extension of tax benefits that expired at the end of last year.

While acknowledging that corn prices have risen since 2005, they said that a variety of factors were to blame, including weather conditions and speculation in commodity markets. They also criticized the 2006 National Academy of Sciences study, saying its conclusions were uncertain and that it relied on outdated and incomplete information.

The four RFS opponents were “rehashing long-disproven falsehoods, citing junk science and mischaracterizing the results of various reports and studies,” Shimkus and Peterson said.

The two lawmakers have been supporters of the ethanol industry; Shimkus worked to include the original standard in the Energy and Policy Act of 2005. Last year, Shimkus sponsored the “Open Fuel Standard Act,” a bill that would require automakers to produce cars that run on a variety of fuels. Peterson is a co-sponsor of the measure.

Peterson has previously fought for concessions for the corn ethanol industry and was a key player in having language added to the 2009 greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill that would have allowed more corn ethanol to qualify in the standard.

Most recently, Shimkus sponsored H.R. 4345, which would provide liability protection to oil companies and automakers against damages that occur from the use of gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol. The measure is supported by both the ethanol and oil industries (E&E Daily, March 30).

Both Peterson and Sullivan are co-sponsors of that bill.