Restaurants ask EPA to cut back ethanol mandate

A group of restaurants owners on Tuesday urged the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of ethanol that fuel producers are required to mix with gasoline, arguing the mandate raises their business costs.

The restaurant owners say the requirement has led to higher food prices because the artificial demand for corn leaves less room for other commodities like wheat and potatoes. 

"In recent years, food commodity costs for chain restaurants and their small business franchisees have increased dramatically," Robert Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, wrote in the letter to the EPA.

The EPA announced last year that it was considering lowering the ethanol mandate to 13 billion gallons in 2014, below the 14.4 billion gallons that were originally planned for the year. That number would also fall short of 2013 and 2012 levels.

Tuesday was the last day to file comments on the proposal.

The restaurants association said it would like Congress to scrap the ethanol mandate altogether, but in the meantime, is asking the EPA to reduce the requirement even further than proposed.

"Although the proposal is a small first step in the right direction, it is really up to Congress to address" this issue, Green said.

Automakers have also argued against the mandate as well, and warn that blending ethanol and gasoline together can damage a car's engine.

But the EPA's proposal to lower the ethanol mandate has been met with fierce opposition from many farmers, who say they benefit from increased demand for corn. 

Other supporters of the Renewable Fuel Standard say ethanol is better for the environment than fossil fuels, and argue the requirement reduces the nation's dependence on foreign oil. 

Last week, a bipartisan group of 31 senators, including many from farming states like Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), warned EPA that cutting the ethanol standards would be a step in the wrong direction. 

"Further, the proposed waiver places at risk both environmental benefits from ongoing development of advanced biofuels and rural America's economic future," they wrote in a letter.