Republicans seek to end federal ethanol mandate

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Congressional Republicans are advocating the full repeal of the federal government’s ethanol mandate, which has been criticized for raising food and fuel prices, as well as forcing consumers to purchase a product.

“I think we need to get rid of [the Renewable Fuel Standard) and we need to think of a better way to handle this,” Oklahoma Republican Rep. James Lankford told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is not that the fuel is economical, it’s not that the fuel is what the consumer wants, it’s that the federal government is requiring this much to be sold.”

“Whole companies have sprung to life knowing that they have a potential of creating a product that the government mandates that everyone purchase,” Lankford told TheDC News Foundation, adding that the RFS should be repealed in such a way as to not totally disrupt the industry.

Earlier this year, it was reported that fuel refiners were hitting the “blend wall” — the point at which refiners refuse to blend more ethanol into the fuel supply. Bloomberg reported in March that refiners will come up 400 million gallons short of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 13.8 billion gallon blending mandate.

Currently, refiners blend 10 percent ethanol into the fuel supply, but the EPA has allowed a 15 percent blend since 2011. However, 15 percent ethanol-blended fuel — E15 — has been criticized by the oil industry as dangerous for some engines.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told Congress last week that “millions of automobiles could face engine and fuel systems damage” from E15 and that the fuel was “an unnecessary risk to consumer safety, automobiles and small engines.”

RFS repeal has attracted staunch opposition from Democrats, the ethanol industry, and environmentalists.

“Keeping the renewable fuel standard on track is critical if America is to succeed in the clean energy race of the 21st Century,” said California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier in a congressional hearing last week. “We cannot just dig our heads in the sand here.”

“We didn’t build the oil industry overnight,” said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Between now and 2015 we’re not going to build a cellulosic biofuel industry that’s the scale of the oil industry. We need a steady path forward.”

Some Republicans have also backed expanding the RFS to include ethanol produced from natural gas as a way to meet the federal mandate. Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson  introduced such a bill, which is cosponsored by 10 Republicans.

“Rep. Olson is a strong advocate for full repeal of the RFS,” Melissa Kelly, spokeswoman for Olson, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Unfortunately, the inescapable fact is that we do not have the votes right now for full repeal in the House or the Senate.”

“So until a full repeal is possible, Olson is trying to lessen the damage from the RFS by increasing the sources of ethanol eligible under the RFS,” Kelly continued. “The bill does not pick winners and losers and it does not increase the mandate.”

Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, told Congress last week that the ethanol mandate was increasing the demand for corn, which was raising the price of livestock.

“Ethanol is not a bad choice if the consumer chooses it,” Lankford said. “But again, when the federal government mandates that everyone has to use it whether you like it or not — that’s what I consider a big problem.”

“I’m OK with ethanol as long as it is a consumer choice issue and not a federal mandate,” Lankford said. “First things first, we need to get a waiver for the current requirements. That at least keeps us static where we are now. [Continuing the current blend wall will] push us into a situation where you’ve got the sale of [renewable fuel credits] on a high market. People cannot use that, and it is actually requiring lenders to be able to purchase more than people can actually consume in a year.”

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