Welch responds to RFS attack ads

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 16, 2015

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch responded over the weekend to ads critical of the Democrat’s signature on a letter asking U.S. EPA to keep ethanol volumes low in the national fuel supply.

Pro-biofuels campaigners Fuels America launched the ads in Vermont last week, asking viewers: “Why is Congressman Peter Welch circulating a plan written by oil industry lobbyists that protects their profits at the expense of clean renewable fuels?”

On Saturday, Welch responded to the ads.

“The corn ethanol industry is spreading a Washington-sized load of manure across Vermont,” he wrote in a statement. “I strongly support the development of renewable energy resources but the facts are clear that federal corn ethanol policy has been a well-intentioned flop.”

Welch, who has long opposed the federal renewable fuel standard, helped circulate a letter that originated from Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) earlier this month requesting that EPA lower the required level of ethanol to be blended in gasoline below the “blend wall” — the 10 percent threshold that the oil industry says is a “safe” level for ethanol content. In addition to Welch and Flores, 182 members of Congress signed the letter.

The letter generated a small controversy after Bloomberg Government reported two weeks ago that a draft of the letter had been written by a lobbyist from oil refiner Marathon Petroleum Corp. Petroleum refiners are among the most vocal opponents of the RFS and have banded with certain environmental groups, food organizations and small engine manufacturers to prevent increases in the ethanol mandate.

Fuels America’s ad is one in a series in a multimillion-dollar buy to stimulate support for the RFS, the 2007 policy to generate 36 billion gallons of biofuels from corn, grasses, food waste and other plant-based substances by 2022. Opponents of the policy have also spent millions of dollars on their own ads, which seek to tie the policy to increasing greenhouse gas emissions in advance of the U.N. climate conference in Paris.

Though EPA and other government agencies base their analyses on models that show biofuels emitting less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, some studies have challenged this assumption, finding that corn ethanol in some circumstances can emit more CO2 over a life cycle than previously thought.

Oil and gas refiners, small engine manufacturers and other groups say that higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline could increase the risk of engine damage, a claim the biofuels industry has fiercely rebutted. EPA approved blends of up to 15 percent ethanol as suitable for model year 2001 and newer vehicles nearly five years ago (Greenwire, Jan. 21, 2011).

EPA must finalize the 2014, 2015 and 2016 RFS volume requirements for ethanol, advanced biofuels and biodiesel, plus the 2017 figure for biodiesel, by Nov. 30. The proposed rule called for year-over-year increases in biofuel blending but would set lower requirements for refiners than Congress laid out in the 2007 law that created the program (Greenwire, June 3).

The Center for Regulatory Solutions, which opposes the RFS, released a poll last week that found 89 percent of 600 Vermonters surveyed are less likely to support the policy given Welch’s long-standing opposition to the RFS. Eighty-two percent were more likely to support Welch given his work to repeal the “corn ethanol mandate” (Greenwire, Nov. 13).

The RFS does mandate that a certain amount of corn ethanol be blended in the fuel supply but also sets requirements for advances in biofuels like biodiesel and fuels made from other plants and plant waste products.

The poll had a 4-percentage-point margin of error.