Senators Could Dethrone King Corn in Ethanol Standards

Source: By Clare Foran, National Journal • Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013

Senators are working on separate bills to aggressively reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol required under the renewable-fuel standard.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member David Vitter, R-La., touted legislation they have been working on together to amend the mandate, which requires blenders to mix ethanol with gasoline, during a joint hearing held Wednesday by the committee and its Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee.

Neither senator spelled out the details of the bill, which has not yet been formally introduced, but Cardin emphasized that it would drawdown the corn-based ethanol portion of the mandate while protecting the quotas for advanced biofuels.

“[The RFS] needs to be better balanced for energy security, food security, and motor safety. There are more efficient renewable-energy sources in the advanced biofuels, and that’s what we should be focusing our attention [on],” Cardin said, adding that he and Vitter are looking for ways to “make aggressive reductions on the volume mandates for corn-based ethanol.”

The senators also emphasized that while they want to change the mandate, they don’t want it eliminated.

“The goal is not to revisit the Clean Air Act, to do away with the program, etc.,” Vitter commented. “Many of those things I would support, but in the context of working on this bill, that’s not only not the goal, but I will oppose amendments that do that, so it’s just going to be about that sort of important reform to this program which I think is necessary.”

A spokeswoman from Cardin’s office did not comment on any specific provisions, saying that the legislation has not yet been finalized. She did, however, reiterate the senator’s support for advanced biofuels under the program.

“Senator Cardin has been clear that reforms needed should mitigate the harm the program is having on traditional corn users, protect the interests of consumers, and assure steady growth and opportunity for truly advanced biofuels from feedstocks that don’t compromise our food security,” said spokeswoman Sue Walitsky.

Aides from Vitter’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

National Journal reported in July that Cardin was drafting RFS-related legislation and that the senator has been motivated, in part, by the concerns raised by poultry producers that the mandate’s corn-based ethanol requirement is causing feedstock prices to soar.

Another bipartisan duo in the Senate is also taking on the corn-ethanol mandate.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have been working together for months to draft legislation that would eliminate the corn-ethanol portion of the RFS completely.

Their legislation is expected to be released soon.

However, any legislation coming out of the Senate that seeks to lower the renewable volume obligations under the mandate will face opposition from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

At the close of Wednesday’s hearing, Boxer issued a warning to any senator who hopes to see changes made to the program.

“As chairman of this committee, and I have the gavel for now, I’m not going to let us reverse course…. I’m just not,” she said.

“No program is perfect that’s for sure, whatever it is; even in the private sector, no new product is perfect and no new marketing strategy is perfect at first. So we gotta work together, and I’m willing to do that. But I just think overall let’s not turn our back on a way to make sure we can become more energy independent and have a better environment in the long run,” Boxer added.