Obama admin to defend RFS rollback in Senate hearing

Source: Jason Plautz, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013

U.S. EPA will defend its controversial proposal to lower the federal targets for corn-based ethanol and advanced biofuels before a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Wednesday.

Chris Grundler, who leads EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, will discuss the agency’s decision to scale back the 2014 renewable fuel standard with the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee (E&ENews PM, Nov. 15).

The 2014 targets have proved the latest divisive move in an already contentious program. Biofuels producers, farmers and some environmentalists have said that lowering the targets will present a step back for the biofuels industry and could freeze investments

At an EPA “listening session” last week, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said the proposal would “stymie the growth of advanced and cellulosic production, discourage additional innovation in the biotechnology industry, harm economic growth, undermine U.S. energy security, and enable significant backsliding on the nation’s environmental goals” (Greenwire, Dec. 5).

But RFS foes say the EPA rollback didn’t go far enough. Oil interests have said that the decision reflects EPA’s recognition that the country has hit the “blend wall,” the point where refiners claim they can no longer blend more ethanol into fuel. Food groups have said that support for corn has artificially inflated prices, while some environmental groups have even challenged that the corn ethanol program is releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“We will continue to call on Congress to repeal the RFS to protect consumers from this outdated and unworkable program once and for all,” the American Petroleum Institute’s Bob Greco said at last week’s EPA meeting.

EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has largely stayed out of the RFS debate, but ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) has said the entire program is “irretrievably broken.” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who heads the clean air subcommittee, has previously said that he’s seeking certainty in the renewable identification number (RIN) markets and praised EPA for addressing refiners’ concerns.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Chris Grundler, director of transportation and air quality for U.S. EPA; Steven Chalk, deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of the board of directors for Growth Energy; Jim Collins, senior vice president for DuPont; Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers; Jon Holzfaster, owner and operator of Holzfaster Farm; Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group; and Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Coalition.