RFS backers fume over Welch letter

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 16, 2015

A pro-biofuels group has launched TV ads in Vermont to criticize the state’s at-large congressman, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, for a letter he signed criticizing the renewable fuel standard.

Fuels America’s ads question the motivations behind a letter Welch and 183 other members of Congress sent to EPA two weeks ago, asking the agency to keep ethanol volumes in the final production requirements to a level that would not exceed 10 percent of the total fuel supply. EPA must finalize the 2014, 2015 and 2016 volume requirements for ethanol, advanced biofuels and biodiesel by the end of this month, plus the 2017 figure for biodiesel.

The letter has become more controversial since Bloomberg Government reported last week that a draft of the letter had been written by a lobbyist from oil refiner Marathon Petroleum Corp. Petroleum refiners are among the most vocal opponents of the RFS and have banded with certain environmental groups and livestock organizations to prevent increases in the ethanol mandate.

“Why is Congressman Peter Welch circulating a plan written by oil industry lobbyists that protects their profits at the expense of clean renewable fuels?” the ad states.

The 30-second television spot is the latest in the flood of ads for and against the RFS that have centered around the policy’s effect on mitigating climate change, ahead of a pivotal U.N. conference in Paris next month.

Fuels America has sought to highlight the fact that 97 of the letter’s signatories have made statements expressing doubt around the science of climate change.

The Center for Regulatory Solutions, which opposes the RFS, today released a poll that finds 89 percent of 600 Vermonters surveyed are less likely to support the policy given Welch’s long-standing opposition to the RFS. Eighty-two percent were more likely to support Welch given his work to repeal the “corn ethanol mandate.” The RFS does mandate that a certain amount of ethanol be blended in the fuel supply but also sets requirements for advances in biofuels like biodiesel and fuels made from other plants and plant waste products.

The poll had a 4-percentage-point margin of error.

Welch spokeswoman Kirsten Hartman said the congressman had signed the letter to voice his concerns over the program, adding that Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) had drafted the letter.