Upton, Waxman Launch Debate on Biofuels Mandate

Source: By Amy Harder, National Journal • Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013

For the first time since President Obama won the White House in 2008, the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are working collaboratively on a controversial piece of energy policy: the renewable-fuels standard.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., released the first in a series of white papers on Wednesday seeking input on how—or whether—Congress should change the mandate for production of biofuels as gasoline blends.

“As part of a bipartisan review, the committee plans to release a series of white papers examining a number of issues emerging with the RFS,” committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said.

The first paper deals with what happens when more biofuel is available on the market than refiners need to meet the current requirement of a 10 percent ethanol blend in gasoline.

The RFS, which requires increasingly large amounts of biofuels each year, was part of a comprehensive energy bill signed by President George W. Bush in 2005 and expanded two years later during a drive to make the country more energy-independent.

Refineries that are required to blend the biofuels with gasoline meet most of the standard by using corn-produced ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency last summer came under fire from both Democrats and Republicans who argued that the RFS was exacerbating problems for a corn crop already hit hard by the record-setting drought. Apart from providing fuel in the form of ethanol, corn also serves as a key feedstock to the poultry, pork, and cattle industries. More advanced biofuels made from other products than corn are not coming to market as quickly as the 2005 law had originally envisioned.

Baker said the committee will seek input from all “interested stakeholders.” Given that the policy crisscrosses the energy, environment, and food sectors, the list of interests calling for reform or repeal of the mandate is long.

The American Petroleum Institute says the mandate is obviated by the nation’s oil and natural-gas boom of the last five years. Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups are concerned about the carbon footprint of corn ethanol. The National Restaurant Association and other like-minded food and livestock groups don’t like the higher food prices that they say are at least partly caused by corn ethanol. Some automakers are concerned about liability if the ethanol in gasoline damages engines.

The list of interests lobbying for maintaining the mandate without changes is much shorter, led by trade groups for the biofuels industry: the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy. But this list has traditionally included one very important party—the Obama administration.