Livestock-state officials ‘disappointed’ with EPA waiver decision

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012

Officials and lawmakers from livestock-producing states say they are disappointed in U.S. EPA’s decision to reject requests to waive federal corn ethanol mandates for up to a year in response to the drought.

EPA this morning announced it was denying the requests from several livestock-state governors on the grounds that the petitioners had failed to demonstrate that the renewable fuel standard had caused severe economic harm. The agency also found the standard did not have a significant effect on corn, food and fuel prices (Greenwire, Nov. 16).

The decision is a “punch in the gut for states’ agricultural economies,” a spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said in an email. Perry, who was behind a waiver request in 2008 that EPA also denied, was one of the governors who wrote letters this year to the agency in support of a waiver.

“Congress provided relief from the Renewable Fuels Standard in the form of emergency waivers, yet the EPA continually refuses to accept requests from the states whose economies are being harmed the most,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens wrote. “This denial goes beyond common sense and, unfortunately, every American is going to feel its effects. As Gov. Perry has said before, any mandate that benefits one industry to the detriment of the rest of the country is just bad public policy.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Jack Markell (D) of Delaware, who wrote a joint letter with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) requesting the waiver, also expressed disappointment but said the governor understood the decision.

“While we are disappointed given the challenges our agricultural community faces, we understand the EPA decision and its rationale,” Markell spokeswoman Cathy Rossi said.

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance had a similar response.

“Our main concern was focused on the impact high grain prices were having on livestock and poultry producers, and that is why we made the request,” Hance said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman. “We know there are other national concerns and understand why EPA made its decision.”

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D), who also petitioned EPA for the waiver, said the decision from EPA was “not unexpected.”

“In response to requests from the agricultural community which was experiencing already tough conditions exacerbated by a prolonged drought, I requested a temporary waiver of federal ethanol requirements,” Perdue said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman. “I am, and will continue to be, a strong advocate of renewable energy solutions to help address our nation’s energy needs. While today’s decision by the U.S. EPA was not unexpected, I will work with the Obama administration to explore other options for relief for our state’s agricultural community.”

Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R), who earlier this year organized a group of more than 150 of his colleagues in support of waiving the corn ethanol mandates, said that after the decision today he intends to urge his colleagues to support either reform or outright repeal of the renewable fuel standard.

“We will now turn to our colleagues in the House and Senate to take up legislation to address this ongoing problem,” Goodlatte said.

This past Congress, Goodlatte introduced two measures related to the renewable fuel standard. One, the “Renewable Fuel Standard Flexibility Act” (H.R. 3097), would halt the corn ethanol requirements should the nation’s supply of corn drop below a certain level. The “Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act” (H.R. 3098) would repeal the standard altogether.

Several interest groups that supported the waiver also said that after today’s decision they intend to focus on broader fixes to the renewable fuel standard, which this year mandates 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into gasoline.

“The agency’s decision is disappointing and doesn’t make much sense in light of the circumstances,” said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel of climate policy at Clean Air Task Force. “But it does make one thing clear. It’s time to overhaul the ethanol mandate.”

The RFS, which analysts project will be a major energy issue in the next Congress, sets requirements not only for corn ethanol but also for advanced biofuels. Groups in the advanced sector warn that any attempt to open up or change the RFS could slow investment in the next generation of biofuels.

“The RFS is well-designed and is the primary reason why the United States has emerged as the global leader in the development of advanced biofuels,” Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, said today.