Republicans admit their RFS hearing isn’t ‘fair and balanced’

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Republican hearing convened yesterday to examine the renewable fuel standard was admittedly a one-sided look at the federal biofuel policy, the panel’s chairman said.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the Republican Study Committee’s energy task force, said the hearing had been scheduled to “build the case for repeal” of the standard. Rather than corn farmers and ethanol companies, Barton’s witness list included several prominent critics of the RFS from the oil, livestock, restaurant and marine manufacturing industries.

“I’m the chairman of the task force. I’ll take the blame,” Barton said. “We did not schedule a fair and balanced hearing.”

The 2007 renewable fuel standard mandates that increasing annual levels of conventional ethanol and advanced biofuel be blended into the nation’s petroleum-based fuel supply, up to 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. While supporters say it has helped build the domestic biofuels industry and wean the country off foreign oil, the standard has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year and has been linked to both higher food prices and higher fuel prices.

Barton was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that crafted the original federal renewable fuel standard in 2005, a less aggressive measure that required refiners to blend 7.5 billion gallons of biofuels into motor fuel by 2012. He said, though, that he opposed its expansion two years later and has come to believe the current version is unworkable given today’s era of decreased motor fuel demand and increased production of domestic oil and gas.

The standard “put numbers in place, targets in place based on assumptions that don’t even come close to where the market is today,” Barton said.

All four witnesses at yesterday’s hearing said they support Barton’s full repeal position and were critical of the decisions U.S. EPA has made over the years to put it into place.

The RFS “is so flawed at the core,” said American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers President Charles Drevna, “that to tinker around the edges, try to fix something that is broken at the core — it may provide some short-term relief, but in the long term, in the long haul, it’ll come right back to haunt us.”

The witness choices drew scathing criticism from the ethanol industry even before the hearing began. The Renewable Fuels Association slammed it as a “one-sided Big Oil, Big Food pep rally.”

“The RSC [Republican Study Committee] should be embarrassed by the lack of balance. Not a single representative from the ethanol industry nor a single national security, energy, environment, or auto expert who supports the renewable fuel standard is participating in this event,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the association. “The RSC is doing a disservice to the Republican senators and representatives who strongly support the RFS. Why is the RSC not giving these Republicans a voice?”

The lack of RFS supporters at yesterday’s hearing didn’t stop witnessses and members of the panel from speculating about what ethanol and renewable fuel standard supporters would have said.

“I tend to agree” with repeal, said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), “but I’m sure there’s another side of the equation that somebody’s going to cry like a wounded bear when we try” to repeal the law.

Barton said he has corn farmers in his district who support the standard but that he had chosen not to invite “a witness from the Farm Bureau.” He also said he recognized there are some members of Congress who are not for total repeal of the standard but felt there is a problem with the standard.

The goal of the hearing was to explore the various issues with the standard, Barton said, and work on building up the coalition for repeal.

Repeal bills have already been introduced this year in both the House and Senate. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), while the Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The next step after yesterday’s hearing, Barton said, will be to give briefings to the energy task force members who were not able to attend and possibly shape the testimony into white papers and legislation.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the full Republican Study Committee and an opponent of the RFS, said there will be other hearings in the future “that will include a multitude of people that have different perspectives.”

Scalise said he was confident that support would grow for repealing the full standard.

“When I talk to my colleagues who represent those districts that are heavy, intensive with farmers, that maybe today are benefiting from this monopoly that they have with the RFS, they recognize that this is unworkable,” Scalise said. “They recognize that come next year, changes need to happen.”

Barton labeled the hearing a success.

“It is clear that witnesses and members are clearly engaged in this issue,” he said in a statement after its conclusion. “Testimony and facts presented in today’s hearing only reinforced my belief that we need to repeal the RFS.”