Opponents of renewable fuels point to ‘unintended consequences’ during Hill, EPA meetings

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ethanol opponents from the livestock, environmental and small-engine sectors yesterday stepped up their calls on Congress to either reform or repeal the renewable fuel standard.

A group of organizations arrayed under the “Smarter Fuel Future” coalition hit Capitol Hill offices yesterday afternoon to push for action on RFS bills that have been stalled throughout this congressional session. They also met with U.S. EPA to urge the agency to stand firm on a proposal to roll back this year’s mandates for ethanol and advanced biofuel use.”Our message is simple: America’s engines, environment and food supply are in danger,” said Wayne Allard, a former Colorado Republican representative and senator who voted against the RFS in Congress and who now is the current vice president for government relations at the American Motorcyclist Association.The RFS passed into law by Congress in 2007 requires refiners to use increasing amounts of ethanol and advanced biofuels. The program has been under scrutiny in Washington, D.C., over the last couple of years largely due to the blend wall, or the limit to the amount of ethanol that can be used in fueling infrastructure and cars.The groups that flew into D.C. yesterday said they are also concerned about ethanol’s role in driving up feed costs for livestock producers, potential damage to engines from using higher amounts of ethanol and negative consequences of planting more corn for ethanol.

“The law of unintended consequences certainly has taken hold with the renewable fuel standard,” said Ron O’Connor of HeartLands Conservancy of Illinois, who was at the EPA and Hill meetings. “What it has done is impact the quality of our water and our soil resources. Those are unintended consequences that must be adjusted.”

Ethanol and advanced biofuel groups have pushed back against the criticism. They say that biofuels are vital for meeting climate change goals, for boosting rural economies and for increasing the nation’s energy independence.

EPA is in the final stages of weighing a proposed rule that would scale back both the ethanol and advanced biofuel targets for this year. EPA has proposed to require that refiners blend or purchase credits for 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year, a 16 percent cut compared to the level set by the 2007 statute. The proposal would set this year’s targets below last year’s actual production of both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels.

Regardless of what the agency does, the groups yesterday said they would continue to push Congress to take action on the RFS.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the author of RFS reform and repeal bills, expressed optimism in gaining traction on the issue in Congress. He said yesterday that there were 216 House members — enough for a majority — on record calling for at least reform of the RFS, whether through public statements or signatures on letters to the administration.

But Byron Dorgan, a former North Dakota senator and co-author of the original renewable fuel standard, said in an interview yesterday that he believes the RFS maintains popular support in Congress.

“The fight to try to repeal RFS is by those who have never liked renewable fuels, have always predicted they will not be successful,” he said. “I think the RFS is going to be around, and I think it does have substantial support.”

Dorgan currently advocates on behalf of the biodiesel industry, which makes an advanced biofuel out of soybean oil, animal fats and used cooking grease. He said he believes EPA will make “significant adjustments” upward in the advanced biofuel section of its proposed rule.

Allard, the other former lawmaker, acknowledged the push-back from biofuel supporters but said that, “at the very least,” EPA should maintain the levels that it proposed in its rule. He said he thinks the proposal represents a “middle ground” in the debate over ethanol.

“We think the EPA needs to hear more from those parts of our economy that have been adversely impacted,” he said. “It’s a pretty large sector of our economy.”