Messaging war on RFS heats up ahead of EPA public hearing

Source: Jason Plautz, E&E reporte • Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ahead of a U.S. EPA listening session tomorrow on the agency’s proposal to lower the federal targets for both corn-based ethanol and advanced biofuels next year, groups on both sides lined up to message on the proposal.

Dozens of industry, environmental, agriculture and economic policy groups are slated to weigh in at today’s public hearing in Crystal City, Va., where the agency will collect feedback on its proposed 2014 renewable fuel standard volume targets. Also scheduled to speak, according to a preliminary agenda, are Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

In advance of the hearing, both sides doubled down on their positions on the EPA proposal, which marks the first time the agency would lower targets for corn ethanol and advanced biofuels. On a call with reporters, a diverse set of opponents to the biofuels mandate praised EPA’s decision to lower the targets, saying it would help combat rising food prices and shows that EPA believes the country has reached the “blend wall,” or the point where petroleum refiners say they are required to blend more ethanol into fuel than is feasible.

Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation and a longtime RFS opponent, said that the corn ethanol mandate has artificially spiked corn prices and made feed more expensive. “This should be a great time of year for our industry,” he said, “but we’re just now recovering from a yearlong slump.”

Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group also joined the call, saying that EPA’s decision was a recognition that the policy “is badly broken.” He also cited previous EPA research finding that ethanol had done nothing to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said the variety of groups on the call — which also included organizations representing chain restaurants, boaters and an international development organization — showed that different viewpoints all point “at the same direction — that this law is bad policy; it needs to be, if not repealed, severely amended.”

Separately, several conservative groups sent a letter to members of Congress, calling for a full repeal of the RFS in light of EPA’s proposal.

“We believe this reduction once again shows how government mandates are harmful for businesses and ultimately, consumers,” the letter said. “Repealing this mandate would bring certainty to the fuel markets and eliminate the harmful impacts this government program has had on businesses and consumers.”

The letter was signed by 25 groups, including Americans for Tax Reform, the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

EPA’s proposal would require refiners to blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum-based gasoline and diesel next year, a reduction of 2.94 billion gallons from the level set in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. Of the target this year, 13.01 billion gallons is to come from conventional ethanol and 2.2 billion gallons from advanced biofuels that do not use cornstarch as an input.

Also weighing in this morning in opposition to EPA’s proposal were several biofuels groups. The Advanced Biofuels Association in a press call this morning said the lowered targets would hamper the growing advanced biofuel industry and could harm future investment.

And the National Biodiesel Board said that EPA’s moves would cause layoffs and plant closures across the country. Anne Steckel, NBB’s vice president of federal affairs, said in a statement that the biodiesel industry was an “RFS success story that is creating the clean-energy jobs that the Obama administration has pushed so hard for in recent years.”

“This industry has been running at an annualized rate of about 2 billion gallons since July. That’s displacing 2 billion gallons of petroleum diesel,” Steckel said. “You can’t cut it almost in half and expect jobs and businesses to survive.”