Will House Legislation on Contentious Biofuels Policy Ever Happen?

Source: By Amy Harder, National Journal • Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., doubts whether the House Energy and Commerce Committee will introduce legislation to reform the renewable fuel standard.(Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

After a host of rare bipartisan hearings and reports last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee may not introduce legislation at all addressing the controversial renewable fuel standard, according to one key Republican member of the committee.

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois., chairman of the Environment and Energy Subcommittee and a negotiator of the panel’s biofuels policy, said the committee is at least in a holding pattern until the Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a regulation on this rule, which isn’t expected to happen until later this spring or summer.

“I can safely say there will be no legislation until at least then,” Shimkus said in an interview Thursday. “I’m not optimistic that there’s going to be legislation anymore.”

A spokeswoman for the committee said in a statement that legislation is still needed.

“While EPA’s announcement has helped alleviate some of the most pressing concerns, the need for legislative reform is still necessary,” said committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker. “The uncertainty surrounding the proposed rule and the threat of a judicial challenge underscore the need for a legislative fix. The committee is continuing to monitor EPA’s rulemaking and is currently considering a range of solutions.”

The renewable-fuel standard, created in 2005 and significantly strengthened in 2007, requires refineries to blend an increasingly large amount of biofuels—mainly from corn ethanol—into the nation’s gasoline supply. It has faced increasing criticism over the past year, in part because of the summer of 2012’s historic drought and because major oil companies claim the biofuels levels are higher than what’s technically possible.

In November, EPA proposed biofuels levels for 2014 that were lower than biofuels producers had wanted, and it pleased—to a limited extent—the oil industry.

“I think the EPA has taken a lot of the steam out,” Shimkus said.

A lot has changed since last year. In a rarity, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have been working together on this issue throughout the better part of 2013. Their staffs wrote white papers together and collaborated on hearings. Shimkus said last summer that the committee was planning to write legislation. But then EPA proposed its rule in November.

“EPA did their job,” Shimkus said.

Now, apparently, Congress may not have to.