Hillary Considers Axing Ethanol Mandate, AFTER Writing An Oped Supporting It

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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California environmental regulators met with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff to discuss getting rid of the federal ethanol mandate.

Clinton’s campaign sat down with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which regulates state air quality and runs a cap-and-trade program. Clinton talked with CARB about “alternatives to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) flagship renewable fuel program, the Renewable Fuel Standard,” a campaign official told The Washington Examiner.

The EPA’s ethanol mandate requires increasing amounts of biofuels to be blended into the fuel supply each year. The program was created under President George W. Bush, and was initially sold as a way to cut foreign oil imports. Now, it’s being sold as an environmentally-friendly alternative to oil.

Environmentalists are increasingly critical of the EPA mandate, saying it’s no better for the environment and may even be contributing to global warming. They’ve joined with the oil industry in calling for the program to be reformed.

California, on the other hand, has a low carbon fuel standard that requires oil refiners to cut carbon dioxide from transportation fuel by 10 percent. The state also operates a cap-and-trade program.

In this context, Clinton talked with CARB head Mary Nichols about what California is doing to cut CO2 from transportation fuels.

Nichols told Clinton advisers “they could avoid political backlash by focusing on other carbon-reduction strategies instead, such as expanding electric vehicle sales and cleaning up emissions from coal-fired electricity,” according to Reuters.

Clinton’s meeting with Nichols, an ethanol mandate critic, is fueling speculation she could use California as a model for replacing the EPA’s ethanol program. The Clinton campaign, however, said they don’t plan on pushing a national low carbon fuel standard.

What’s more interesting to many following the issue, is that Clinton’s pivot on the ethanol mandate comes after she expressed support for the program in a May oped for the Iowa Gazette.

“We have to get the [ethanol mandate] back on track in a way that provides investors with the certainty they need, protects consumers, improves access to E15, E85, and biodiesel blends, and effectively drives the development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels,” Clinton wrote.

The ethanol mandate is a compliance nightmare for oil refiners who are forced to blend more ethanol into gasoline or buy credits to comply with the law.

But California’s low carbon fuel standard has been hotly contested by refiners as well. Industry estimates say California’s fuel law could increase gas prices 33 cents to more than $1 because of the increasing compliance costs to refiners.

The state’s stricter fuel rules could also force refineries to close down because it’s not worth the investment to install the additional equipment required to refine fuel with less carbon dioxide in it. The industry says nearly half of California’s 14 refineries could close their doors in the next four years because of the rule.

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