White House biofuels proposal Is baffling

Source: By former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.), The Hill.com • Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I have long been on the record supporting domestic production of biofuels, natural gas, oil and coal.  My stance on these issues reflects my belief in an all-of-the-above fuel policy that keeps American energy dollars at home.

More difficult to decipher has been the Obama administration’s recent views on renewable fuels and curbing global warming.  It is hard to tell these days because the White House is sending mixed signals.

For example: when I first heard several months ago that the administration proposed making across the board cuts to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) – the federal policy that requires biofuels in our nation’s fuel supply – it was puzzling because the White House and the president have been long time supporters of renewable fuels.  If you told me two weeks ago the Obama administration did this at the behest of oil companies, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  After all, the White House hasn’t exactly been too kind to the oil industry over the years. But last week, we learned that’s exactly what happened.

Reuters, which broke the news story, exposed how the Carlyle Group, a politically connected investment firm with ties to the oil industry and the Saudi Royal family and Delta Airlines, which owns oil refineries, worked backdoor connections on Capitol Hill and in the White House to get the Obama administration to propose watering down the RFS and reduce the amount of biofuels in our fuel supply for 2014.

Yes, the same Carlyle Group, with close ties to the Bush family, is secretly working with the Obama White House to undermine the RFS that the president has supported since his election to the Senate.  This bizarre alliance has even led to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, to ask the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General to look into any improper lobbying on the RFS.

What is particularly baffling about the White House decision to reduce the RFS is that the Obama administration has recently made it clear that reducing the amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere a top priority for the remainder of their time at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

In fact, the EPA is today announcing a series of rules on air quality standards to lower the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by coal plants.  This is likely going to force millions of Americans to pay more for electricity.  Whether you agree or disagree with this proposal, it certainly isn’t going to help Democrats keep the Senate – especially in states like Kentucky and Louisiana where Democrats don’t want to be branded anti-coal.

So on the one hand, the president is willing to take positions against fossil fuels that could create some serious political risks for Democrats.

But at the same time, he is withdrawing his support for renewable fuels. This retreat will not only increase greenhouse gas emissions, but it will also jeopardize Democrats’ electoral fortunes in purple states across the Midwest and Great Plains, where biofuels support tens of thousands of jobs. Think Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Try winning a statewide race in one of those states playing defense on renewable fuels.

It appears that the White House is expecting to make a final decision on the RFS in the next few weeks.

Early reports say that the White House will ease the proposed cuts to corn ethanol, but will sustain the proposed cuts for biodiesel. Biodiesel, which is often sourced from used cooking oil, burns significantly cleaner than diesel and is the only certified advanced biofuel by the EPA that is commercially available across the nation.  If there was a renewable fuel that the White House should love because of its environmental benefits, it would be biodiesel.  But unless the White House reverses course, many biodiesel producers will go out of business.  You can’t blame the oil companies for trying to eliminate their competition; it is just hard to say why the Obama administration is helping them. Especially when it will lead to an increase in domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately, I hope the White House will raise the RFS for all biofuels. Whether it is corn ethanol or biodiesel, both burn cleaner than the alternatives and help keep American energy dollars at home. But to advocate a national energy policy that hurts coal, helps oil companies and puts biofuels producers out of business just doesn’t make sense and leaves many energy policy experts and investors scratching their heads.

Shows represented Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District from 1999 to 2003. He is now a lobbyist with AUX, but the firm does not represent any renewable fuel companies.