RFS safe for now — advocates

Source: Marc Heller, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2016

Interest groups fighting to preserve the federal renewable fuel standard can stop worrying about its future for the near term, a former Pennsylvania governor who now lobbies for a biofuels company said yesterday.

Mark Schweiker, who was Republican governor of Pennsylvania from 2001 to 2003, said talk of legislative changes to the RFS won’t translate to real changes as long as Barack Obama is president — and possibly as long as the policy is wrapped up in federal court.

“I’d make that bet,” Schweiker said in an interview.

Schweiker and other representatives of renewable fuel companies traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to visit congressional offices and urge lawmakers not to change the program that requires biofuels such as ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply.

A handful of lawmakers including Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) have called for an overhaul or repeal of the RFS, which they say gives U.S. EPA too much authority to dictate fuel mixes that might not be supported by the free market.

Although RFS-related amendments could be offered to any number of measures in Congress, including spending bills, Schweiker said renewable fuel supporters “are not sensing any appetite to tinker with the RFS.”

Schweiker said lawmakers’ reluctance to do more than talk about an RFS overhaul reflects election-year politics and a wish to let the courts sort out the issue first.

Opponents of the RFS aren’t so quick to declare their goals on hold. Lawmakers seem open to the message that ethanol blends greater than 10 percent can be damaging to certain kinds of engines — giving legislation by Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to cap the blend at 9.7 percent some traction, said Frank Macchiarola, downstream director for the American Petroleum Institute.

“While we’re hopeful, we also know it’s an election year,” Macchiarola said. “We’re mindful that the legislative process is one that builds upon itself.”

The RFS faces a stack of lawsuits, including from petroleum companies that say EPA didn’t give them enough time to prepare for the 2016 requirements and from biofuels companies saying EPA improperly used its waiver authority to set renewable fuel levels below those dictated in the RFS law.

Congressional debate about the RFS isn’t going away, however, and industry groups say they don’t want to be crowded out of the conversation by the other side’s lobbying.

Schweiker and other representatives of the Fuels America coalition — including DuPont, the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy — are calling for no changes to the RFS.

Although corn ethanol, the dominant biofuel, may not be as dependent on the RFS, so-called second-generation biofuels made from non-food plants haven’t matured enough to thrive without it, said John Urbanchuk, managing partner of ABF Economics, a biofuels consulting firm.

The issue generated a ripple, as well, in the presidential race, as Americans for Energy Security & Innovation urged a key adviser to likely Republican nominee Donald Trump to reconsider comments critical of continuing the renewables standard.

Former Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Jim Talent of Missouri, co-chairmen of the group, wrote to Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) after Bloomberg News reported that Cramer said the RFS has met its policy goals.

“As lawmakers who championed the RFS prior to your service in Congress, we assure you that this policy remains a vital bulwark for U.S. energy security against foreign manipulation,” they wrote.

“If Congress or the next president were to undermine the RFS, the consequences would be dire — not just for farmers and workers in states like North Dakota — but for consumers across the country,” they said.