Environmentalists, anti-hunger groups join push reform ethanol mandate

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Environmentalists and anti-hunger activists have joined a broad coalition urging Congress to reform a federal ethanol blending mandate they argue raises food prices and harms the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that refineries blend 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the fuel supply by 2022, the majority of which is met by blending corn ethanol.

“The mandate on corn-based ethanol in particular has had a devastating effect on the entire food economy from livestock and poultry producers facing record feed costs, to food retailers facing record food costs, to consumers here and abroad struggling to balance food budgets in tough economic times,” reads a letter to Congress from groups opposing the blending mandate, including Action Aid USA, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Working Group and Oxfam America.

The House Energy and Commerce committee is hashing out a bipartisan reform to the federal blending mandate, the details of which have yet to be revealed. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has endorsed reforming the mandate and has even suggested tying it to the debt-ceiling negotiations.

The corn and ethanol industry has pushed back against the idea of reform, launching a media campaign to tie efforts to repeal the ethanol mandate to corporate greed and big oil.

“For far too long Big Oil has run a campaign of misinformation and unsubstantiated attacks against the renewable fuels industry; it is high time consumers get a reality check from Big Oil’s propaganda designed to protect their market share and enable their monopolistic behavior,” said the ethanol industry-backed Growth Energy.

However, opposition to the blending mandate has popped up across a wide range of industries and ideological groups, from free-market activists to environmentalists to the poultry and meat industry.

“Ethanol from corn also is concerning to many due to its global warming impact and the use of natural resources such as water and native grassland for producing fuel,” the letter continues. “The corn-based ethanol mandate is also having a devastating impact in communities throughout the world, where people living in poverty are facing increased food prices that threaten their food and land security.”

While many conservative groups and congressional Republicans have pushed for full repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard, others have joined the effort to reduce the amount of ethanol required to blend into the fuel supply as short-term relief for food and fuel prices.

“Although the problems created by the RFS in terms of RINs and the approaching ‘blend wall’ are significant and need to be addressed, so too do the problems the RFS imposes on the food chain, consumers, taxpayers, and the environment,” the letter adds. “As such, any RFS proposal advanced by the Committee should include significant, meaningful and permanent decreases in the conventional biofuels (corn ethanol) mandate.”

However, lowering the mandate is only a short-term fix, according to the petroleum industry, which supports full repeal.

“America’s energy-from-shale revolution has made the RFS an obsolete relic of our country’s decades long era of energy scarcity,” said Bob Greco, downstream group director at the American Petroleum Institute. “It makes little sense to keep pushing a solution to fix a problem that no longer exists, especially when it could harm consumers and devastate our economy.”

“Congress must repeal the RFS once and for all to protect consumers over the long-run,” Greco added.

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