Panel of GOP critics to dig into RFS as EPA deadline looms

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 2, 2015

Two House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees this week will take up the federal renewable fuel standard in what will likely be a contentious hearing.

Terry Dinan, a senior adviser at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is scheduled to testify at the joint hearing of the subcommittees on Environment and Oversight.

The witness panel will feature both critics and supporters of the policy. Republican members of the panels will likely offer harsh criticisms of the program.

“The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standards may force Americans to consume gasoline blended with corn-based ethanol that can damage engines,” Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a recent statement. “Americans should not have to worry about what blend of gasoline is the right choice for their vehicle. This mandate will be costly to consumers and will unnecessarily burden our domestic oil refiners and producers.”

Congress first passed the RFS into law in 2005 and significantly expanded it in 2007 to require refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol and advanced biofuel into petroleum gasoline and diesel.

The 2007 policy called for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel use by 2022 — 21 billion gallons of which was to be advanced biofuel — but gave U.S. EPA some flexibility to lower the targets on a yearly basis.

The program has been under fire because advanced biofuel producers have not been able to meet the yearly targets that Congress wrote into the 2007 statute. The oil industry has also pushed aggressively for repeal of the RFS because falling gasoline demand has meant that the statute requires them to blend an increasing percentage of ethanol. Critics of the program have also tied ethanol to engine damage and higher food prices.

The Congressional Budget Office last year released a report finding that meeting the mandates that Congress wrote into the 2007 statute would raise gas prices but that the policy has had a negligible impact on food prices.

At a recent event at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Dinan said that the RFS has proved challenging to implement.

“EPA faces basic trade-offs between containing the cost of the rule and providing strong incentives to push these fuels into market,” Dinan said.

According to the committee, tomorrow’s hearing will examine both costs and benefits of the RFS. The witness panel includes one representative from the biofuels industry. Supporters of the program say the RFS has reduced the transportation sector’s carbon dioxide footprint and helped make the country more energy independent.

The hearing comes as EPA is nearing an Nov. 30 court-ordered deadline to finalize a rule setting renewable fuel targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016, as well as the biodiesel mandate for 2017. EPA’s proposed rule called for year-over-year increases in biofuel mandates but would set lower requirements for refiners than Congress laid out in the 2007 statute.

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Terry Dinan, senior adviser at the Congressional Budget Office; Ed Anderson, CEO and president of WEN-GAP LLC; John DeCicco, research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute; Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council; and Charles Drevna, distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.