Military vote a ‘good signal’ of congressional support for RFS, advocates say

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Industry groups are hailing yesterday’s Senate vote to restore military biofuels efforts as a signal that Congress will remain supportive of the renewable fuel standard despite calls for reform or repeal.

The biofuels industry is hoping to build on the 62-37 vote next year, said Advanced Biofuels Association President Mike McAdams, when battles over the standard are likely to come to a head in Congress.

“I’m absolutely heartened today that the vote was 62-37,” McAdams said. “I think it sends a really good signal. It’s the first major vote on biofuels after the election.”

The vote yesterday struck language from the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill prohibiting the military from purchasing certain alternative fuels. Eleven Republicans from agricultural states voted for the amendment offered by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) (E&ENews PM, Nov. 28).

Biofuel supporters said they expect that bipartisanship to continue next year.

“We had members from both sides of the aisle in a strong vote supporting investments in biofuels,” said Michael Frohlich, a spokesman for ethanol trade group Growth Energy. “This is just one of many indicators that the support that the renewable fuel standard currently has will continue.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, cautioned against reading too much into the vote. He said, though, that it shows “pretty clearly” that the political support for biofuels is “not waning as quickly as people like to think that it is.”

He added, “If we had lost the vote, I think certainly people would be writing with great enthusiasm the demise of the ethanol industry and how this signals that the RFS is certain to be next. Without a doubt, some of those that were pursuing this amendment, Sen. [James] Inhofe [R-Okla.] and Sen. [John] McCain [R-Ariz.], probably did view this as the first battle in the effort to eliminate the RFS.”

But despite the Senate vote on the Udall amendment, opponents of the standard, which mandates that the country produce 36 billion gallons of traditional ethanol and advanced biofuels by 2022, yesterday said they were gearing up to launch a major effort to repeal or reform the RFS next year.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee who is slated to be chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the 113th Congress, said at a briefing yesterday that he intends to be a leader in pushing for changes next year.

Goodlatte said he would work with other committee leaders, including those on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to seek hearings on the RFS.

“We’re looking to build consensus, and we’ll push for whatever is politically achievable,” Goodlatte said, “and if it turns out that reforming the law is more easy to accomplish, initially we’ll push for that, but our ultimate goal is to not have the government interfering in the marketplace.”

Goodlatte spoke yesterday at a briefing by the National Council of Chain Restaurants, which yesterday released a study showing that the RFS would cost its members billions over the next few years (Greenwire, Nov. 28). He said his own effort was “bipartisan and bicameral,” pointing to a group of 155 other House members and 26 senators who signed letters this year asking U.S. EPA to waive the standard’s corn ethanol requirement in response to the drought.

EPA denied the waiver request, but that group of lawmakers, Goodlatte said, “provides a basis for moving forward with legislation” in the new Congress.

Of the 13 Democratic senators who signed the letter earlier this year, though, only Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted yesterday to oppose the amendment restoring the military’s ability to carry out its biofuels program.

The House and the Senate remain split over the military biofuels provision, and it could prove to be a sticking point when the two defense authorization bills go to a conference committee.

Biofuels groups yesterday said they are not sure there would be a split between the two bodies on future biofuels legislation, though, pointing to recent comments by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on Energy and Power, that he didn’t see anything changing on the RFS in the new Congress.

Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, said he thinks bioenergy has momentum right now in Washington, D.C.

“The reason there’s momentum in Washington is there’s momentum in America,” Monroe said. “Private companies are making millions in investments, creating jobs and catalyzing the economy. Congress sees this and wants to encourage it.”