Pro-ethanol bill dividing both parties

Source: By Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times • Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017

An unlikely coalition of environmentalists, labor unions, boaters and some of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans is mobilizing to fend off a pro-ethanol bill that has divided both parties and, if passed, would mark one of the biggest wins in recent memory for the industry.

Ethanol champions in the Senate are pushing the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act, a bill that would allow E15 — gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol — to be sold year round. Current law restricts the sale of E15 during the summer months due to fears that the fuel will lead to increased smog levels.

Senators from both parties back the bill, and as is usually the case with ethanol legislation, support breaks down along regional, not party, lines.

Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, introduced the bill earlier this year; each lawmakers hails from a state that’s seen significant job growth and economic benefits from the explosion of the ethanol industry.

But the measure also has attracted heated opposition, and has made for strange political bedfellows. Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, opposes the measure, as does Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the former committee chairman and a top ethanol critic in the chamber.

They were joined Wednesday by leading environmental groups — which rarely find themselves in agreement with Mr. Barrasso and Mr. Inhofe — in making a last-ditch effort to sink the bill before it comes up for a committee vote, which could happen as soon as next week.

“This bill is a disaster for wildlife, for air, for public health, for drinking water, and we absolutely urge the U.S. Senate to reject it and get to work reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard, the corn ethanol mandate, so we can protect our natural resources,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Mr. O’Mara was joined on the call by officials with the United Steelworkers, the American Motorcyclist Association, the National Taxpayers Union, and the boat owners organization BoatUS, as critics of the bill sought to highlight the diverse group that’s come together in opposition.

E15 is currently available in 29 states but is taken off the market between June and September. That schedule was initially put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency to curb ozone, which causes smog, during hot summer months.

Supporters of E15, an increasingly popular alternative to the more common E10 blends found virtually everywhere in the country, say those rules are outdated and unnecessary. The bipartisan bill, they argue, is a step forward for consumer choice and energy independence.

“This bill will lift a useless burden on retailers so that consumers can have the option to choose this legal fuel year-round. A vote against this bill is a vote against consumers — it’s saying that you don’t trust consumers to make their own choices at the pump,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers.

On the other side of the debate, ethanol critics say more E15 in the market could lead to engine problems for boats and other vehicles that can’t handle higher ethanol blends. They say the industry, in conjunction with the federal government, must undertake an education campaign before even considering the current bill.

“Misfueling is real. It’s serious and the EPA should address that issue before inviting more problematic fuel into the marketplace,” said former Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican and now the vice president of government relations at the American Motorcyclist Association.

It’s unclear how the E15 measure will fare in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. A vote could be held next Wednesday, committee sources said, though an exact date hasn’t yet been set.

Whichever way it goes, it surely won’t break along party lines, as powerful Republicans on the committee are pushing a full overhaul of the Renewable Fuel Standard — the federal rules that mandate the blending of ethanol in gasoline — before considering any bill that promotes more ethanol.

“With all the problems with the RFS it would be irresponsible of the Congress to give them this waiver without addressing the larger issues with the program,” Mr. Inhofe said Wednesday afternoon on the Senate floor.