RFS faces scrutiny from 2 House Science subcommittees

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015

Two House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees this week will take up the renewable fuel standard in a joint hearing.

Thursday’s hearing in the subcommittees on Energy and Oversight comes as U.S. EPA is accepting comments on a proposal to set biofuel mandates through the program for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The witness list for the hearing includes stakeholders in the refining and boating industries, as well as academics.

“The purpose of this subcommittee hearing is to provide oversight for the renewable fuel standard, to assess technical challenges to the use of biofuels in a variety of engines, and the impact the increasing biofuels mandate could have on the economy and the environment,” according to the subcommittee summary.

Congress attached the RFS to the Clean Air Act in 2007 as a means of boosting energy independence and reducing the greenhouse gas footprint of the transportation sector. Through the standard, EPA sets yearly requirements for refiners to use both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels.

Critics in the oil refining and other sectors say that corn ethanol hasn’t lived up to its environmental promises and that the standard forces more ethanol into the fueling system above the “blend wall,” the term for technical constraints on efforts to get more ethanol into the marketplace. The boating industry has also raised concerns about boat owners “misfueling” with more ethanol than their engines can safely handle.

Chairing the hearing this week are Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.).

Earlier this month, Loudermilk floated an amendment to the House GOP’s fiscal 2016 spending plan for the Interior Department and EPA that would eliminate funding for EPA to put the renewable fuel standard in place (Greenwire, June 25).

Conservative group FreedomWorks championed the amendment, but both critics of the RFS and biofuel producers aggressively pushed back against its inclusion in the appropriations bill. Oil refining critics of the RFS argued that it would force the nation to use the higher levels of biofuels that Congress wrote into the law, while biofuel groups said it would chill investment in next-generation technologies.

Loudermilk ultimately never offered the amendment during floor debate, and GOP leadership pulled the entire bill over a controversial amendment on the Confederate flag.

Schedule: The hearing is Thursday, July 23, at 10 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Matt Smorch, vice president for strategy and supply, CountryMark; Jason Hill, associate professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering, University of Minnesota; Tim Reid, director of engine design and development, Mercury Marine; and Wallace Tyner, professor of agricultural economics, Purdue University.