Republicans demand info on USDA support for ethanol

Source: By Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday demanded documents from the Agriculture Department that “justify” its support for the ethanol sector.

In a letter obtained by E&E Daily, the four GOP members wrote that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had made comments about the availability of ethanol blends that directly contradicted statements made by industry experts at a July hearing.

“The committee would like to request that USDA provide further background information regarding the department’s internal justification for policy decisions related to support for the ethanol industry,” they wrote.

Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Reps. Randy Weber (R-Texas), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) and Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) — all critics of federal support for the ethanol industry — signed the letter.

At issue, they said, were Vilsack’s comments about a new $100 million program to help gas stations install pumps capable of handling gasoline containing up to 85 percent ethanol. USDA announced the awards Sept. 10 to gas retailers in 21 states (Greenwire, Sept. 10).

Most gasoline sold in the United States contains 10 percent ethanol, and Vilsack said the program would help boost sales of higher blends of the corn-based fuel. The funding, he said, would nearly double the number of pumps in the country that can handle higher blends.

Smith and the other GOP members, however, said Vilsack’s comment that consumers would buy those higher blends if they were available contradicted testimony provided to the Science Committee at the July hearing.

At that hearing, industry representatives said that gas retailers faced challenges to providing higher blends of ethanol and that demand for the fuels remained low. They also argued that small-engine vehicles such as lawn mowers couldn’t handle more than 10 percent ethanol (E&E Daily, July 24).

“Industry experts referenced the significant challenge retailers face in selling both E15 and E85 to consumers,” the lawmakers wrote, “as well as the negative impact E15 can have when used inappropriately in small engines.”

The lawmakers asked USDA to provide no later than Oct. 9 all “research, reports and assessments” that the department has gathered on nationwide demand for ethanol.