Skeptical Republicans to take another whack at RFS

Source: Marc Heller, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 22, 2016

The congressional debate over the federal renewable fuel standard will break into the open Wednesday when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee takes testimony from U.S. EPA and outside groups.

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, will be the lead witness, the committee said. She will be joined by Howard Gruenspecht, deputy administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called the oversight hearing to address the future of the RFS and review EPA’s performance in implementing it, a committee spokeswoman said. Inhofe has criticized the agency for missing deadlines on issuing volume levels, among other issues, and EPA is defending multiple lawsuits on the policy.

Organizations testifying include the Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc. and Advanced Biofuels Business Council.

Defenders of the RFS, which sets levels for biofuels, say EPA shouldn’t cut back on requirements for ethanol. The National Corn Growers Association, Growth Energy and other ethanol advocates have sued EPA over the agency’s decision in 2015 to waive congressionally mandated levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016, setting a lower target.

In reaching that decision, the agency cited the ability of oil refiners to blend the levels set by Congress.

The Corn Growers Association has called the RFS one of the most successful energy policies in the United States. The RFS, enacted in 2007, proposes to boost biofuel production to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.

On the other side, oil companies have sued EPA, saying the agency didn’t give them enough time to meet the requirement.

Lawmakers’ unhappiness with the RFS spilled into Senate debate on comprehensive energy legislation earlier this month, as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) proposed an amendment to repeal the standard. Deliberations on that bill crumbled amid fighting over how to respond to the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

Inhofe has said the program needs to be revamped and placed under closer oversight.

Critics of the RFS have seized on the Iowa Republican presidential caucus, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) won despite speaking out against ethanol mandates. The American Council for Capital Formation said it would launch an ad campaign against the RFS.

“With the Senate environment committee conducting oversight of the program this week, we hope that Congress has received the message loud and clear and finally put an end to this decade old political boondoggle,” said the group’s vice president, George David Banks, in a news release.

The Department of Agriculture has painted a rosy picture for ethanol, highlighting its own study that showed production is becoming much more efficient, meaning farmers don’t have to plant as much corn to yield a gallon of ethanol.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.

Witness: Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA; Howard Gruenspecht, deputy administrator, U.S. Energy Information Administration; Lucian Pugliaresi, president, Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc.; Ronald Minsk, energy policy consultant; and Brooke Coleman, executive director, Advanced Biofuels Business Council.