Lawmakers to debate future of RFS

Source: Marc Heller, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016

The fight over the renewable fuel standard returns to Capitol Hill this week with a hearing in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

The hearing Wednesday will focus on oversight of the U.S. EPA program, including striking a balance between the interests of ethanol producers and consumers, said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

The subcommittee hadn’t announced witnesses in time for publication, but the Renewable Fuels Association said its president, Bob Dinneen, would testify.

Wednesday’s hearing is the latest in several RFS-related discussions on Capitol Hill this year. While a handful of lawmakers continue to call for its repeal or reform, Congress has shown little sign of making either happen. Meanwhile, the program is tied up in lawsuits from both critics and supporters.

The subcommittee, in its hearing announcement, noted that after 2022, congressional mandates won’t apply, and the amount of alternative fuels to be blended into gasoline will be solely up to EPA.

“After 2022, EPA has wide discretion to set the RFS targets, raising concerns about the long-term direction of the program,” the hearing notice said.

Whitfield, in a statement, said the hearing would provide a “much-needed” update on RFS implementation.

“For the sake of consumers, corn and soybean growers, ethanol and biodiesel producers, refiners and gas station owners, and equipment makers, we must also ensure that the program strikes the right balance,” he said.

Many supporters of the program, including the RFA, say officials have been too timid in mandating biofuel use. For 2017, EPA set levels slightly below the congressional mandate in the RFS law, citing its authority to waive the requirements under certain situations.

EPA set a target of 18.8 billion gallons of renewable fuel for 2017, or 200 million gallons short of the congressional mandate. The great majority would be corn ethanol. A total of 4 billion gallons would be advanced biofuel, EPA said.

Critics of the RFS say it risks raising ethanol blending levels beyond 10 percent, which some companies say isn’t good for small or boat engines, for instance.

Dinneen, in a statement Friday, said he plans to tout the program’s successes at the hearing, including “lower carbon emissions from transportation fuels, competition at the pump and lower consumer prices, dramatic reductions in imported petroleum, increased farm income and reduced farm program costs, technology innovation and efficiency in ethanol production, including the launch of commercial scale cellulosic ethanol.”

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, June 22, at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.

Witnesses: TBA.