Stabenow wants colleagues to ‘hear the positive story about biofuels’

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014

As the Obama administration weighs lowering the federal renewable fuels mandate, a Senate panel this week plans to bring industry officials to Capitol Hill to highlight accomplishments in advanced biofuels.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that the purpose of the hearing, which will feature both manufacturers of advanced biofuels and the industries that use the fuels, is to “broadly talk about the exciting things” being done in the biofuels space.Stabenow, whose state is one of the leaders in bio-based manufacturing, has been a staunch opponent of U.S. EPA’s recent proposal to roll back this year’s mandate for both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels.EPA in November proposed a 16 percent reduction in total renewable fuels compared with the levels set out in the 2007 statute that created the renewable fuel standard. The agency cited limits to the amount of ethanol that can be used in gasoline and a slower-than-anticipated ramp-up of advanced biofuels (E&ENews PM, Nov. 15, 2013).

“We want everybody, including the EPA, to hear the positive story about biofuels,” Stabenow said in an interview last week.

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hear from DuPont Biofuels, a division of the chemical giant that is developing one of the nation’s first cellulosic ethanol plants in Iowa, as well as the airlines and race car industries, among others.

DuPont Global Business Director for Biorefineries Jan Koninckx, who is scheduled to testify, has warned that the administration’s proposal would stymie growth in his industry.

“It’s something that very much surprises and disappoints us, and something that will rob the country of a great opportunity,” he said last fall when the proposal was released.

The Senate Agriculture panel’s hearing was originally scheduled for October, but it was canceled due to the government shutdown and then postponed while the panel completed work on the farm bill.

Although the Agriculture Committee does not have jurisdiction over the renewable fuel standard, it oversees several farm bill programs that provide funding to biofuel producers and farmers who grow biofuel crops.

“This is homegrown American fuels that are being used in a variety of ways, and they help with energy independence and creating competition in the marketplace to lower prices,” Stabenow said.

EPA’s proposal, which the agency is expecting to finalize in late spring, continues to divide members of the House and Senate. Members from the Midwest have risen up in arms, warning that it would kill advanced biofuel projects and hurt rural economies. Stabenow said she was among a group of senators who met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to try to persuade the agency to increase the proposed targets.

Other members, mostly those with big livestock and oil industries, have called the proposal a step in the right direction but continue to push for either reform or repeal of the renewable fuel standard by Congress.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) also recently met with McCarthy and late last month sent a letter to the administrator asking her to respond to a series of questions on the standard.

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, April 8, at 10 a.m. in 328A Russell.

Witnesses: Richard Childress, CEO of Richard Childress Racing LLC; Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont Industrial Biosciences; Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council; Sumesh Arora, vice president of Innovate Mississippi and director of Strategic Biomass Solutions; and Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs of Airlines for America.