Senate Energy Bill Sees Several Renewable Fuel Amendments

Source: By Jessie Stolark, EESI • Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016

On January 27, the Senate began consideration of the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012). The bill was shepherded through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in late July.  It contains a host of energy measures including efficiency, infrastructure, supply and accountability as well as conservation – but controversial topics were avoided in the bill. Some of these were taken up in the year-end omnibus package, including extension of renewable tax credits and repeal of the oil export ban.  Since Wednesday, legislators have also opened the floodgates on amendments.

Senators Murkowski and Cantwell asked their colleagues to avoid bogging down the bill with superfluous amendments, with Cantwell remarking, “Let’s show the Senate can work. Let’s not go crazy with a bunch of ancillary things,” but the request may have fallen on deaf ears.  As of Thursday 180 amendments had been offered, with 11 of them passing.  Of the 11 passed amendments, they are mostly of non-controversial measures, including ones related to studying the effects of crude oil exports, defining smart manufacturing, incentivizing geothermal energy and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) investments.

On Wednesday, several familiar foes to the Renewable Fuel Standard emerged again.  Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), filed an amendment (SA 3016) that would repeal the corn ethanol portion of the RFS.  The amendment has been offered several times in the past, either as standalone legislation or as amendments.  Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) also offered a retread — an amendment to repeal the RFS full-stop.  Both are still unlikely to pass, as Senate support over ethanol is fractured into several camps – repeal, reform, protect — making such broad repeals unlikely.

It’s also expected that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will introduce an amendment to raise the 1 pound per square inch (psi) Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver on E10 gasoline (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline).  The provision was offered as standalone legislation in 2015. Raising the waiver would allow ethanol blends beyond E10, such as E15 to be sold year round.  Currently, due to the increased volatility restrictions on gasoline in the summer months, E15 can only be marketed to FlexFuel Vehicles during the summer.  The RVP issue has been identified as a major stumbling block in getting smaller and independent retailers to offer the blend to their consumers.

Currently, E15 has been approved in make and model years 2001 and newer by the EPA and the DOE.  According to an analysis of 2016 make and model year owner’s manuals by the Renewable Fuel Association, over 70 percent of new vehicles explicitly approve the use of E15.

For more information see:

Senate starts debate on broad energy bill, Reuters

Senate approves first amendments to energy bill, The Hill

Old and new fights emerge on Senate floor, E&E Daily

S.2012 – Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015,