Don’t go backward on biofuels

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The president challenged Congress during his State of the Union address to make 2014 a breakthrough year.  He called for a “year of action” and reminded us that America does not stand still.

We agree that America cannot afford to stand still. And as bipartisan champions of clean-burning renewable energy, we also agree we must fight to strengthen public policies — such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — that are good for the environment, good for national security, good for energy independence, good for our balance of trade, and good for economic, wage and job growth.

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Now is not the time to slam the brakes on 21st century alternative, domestic energy breakthroughs that would increase U.S. productivity, opportunity and prosperity.  We are eager to work with the president to secure gains already made in the marketplace and accelerate our shared goals for America’s energy independence and energy security.

Our bipartisan concerns regarding RFS targets might not capture headlines or make for exciting dinner conversation, but this issue bears significant short- and long-term consequences for the environment, energy stability and the economy.

Congress established the RFS as a catalyst for energy diversity and cleaner-burning alternatives to fossil fuels. The 2007 federal law set annual statutory targets for blending biofuels into the nation’s transportation fuels over 15 years. The Environmental Protection Agency administers the law and has authority to adjust biofuel volumes based on anticipated production. The EPA in 2013 set an RFS target of 16.55 billion gallons. In November, the EPA proposed lowering the biofuels target to 15.2 billion gallons for 2014, nearly 3 billion gallons below the statutory target of 18.15 billion gallons.

The EPA based this policy reversal, in part, on the so-called “blend wall,” embracing the argument that we can blend only 10 percent of biofuels in each gallon of gasoline. This decision guts an incentive for private sector investment in advanced biofuels technologies and infrastructure. If the EPA rule stands, it correctly will be interpreted as a sign  the administration has given up on the drive toward second-generation ethanol, from woody biomass, agricultural waste and other sources.

The administration’s proposal is a step backward for biodiesel, our nation’s most successful homegrown advanced biofuel. While biodiesel has plenty more room to grow in the existing fuel market, the administration is proposing that this industry stagnate rather than grow.

The administration’s proposal would adversely impact the bottom line for U.S. farmers, job security for workers all along the biofuels supply chain, and choices for consumers at the pump. If capital investment and research in homegrown, alternative, cleaner-burning fuels go down, future reliance on foreign sources of oil and carbon emissions go up.

Despite Big Oil’s well-financed efforts to hoodwink the EPA and the American public about hitting a “blend wall” that limits the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the gasoline supply, we aren’t buying it.

The first words from the president in his State of the Union message reflected the enduring strength of our republic. He said it is the American people who make the state of our union strong. As elected representatives for the good people of Iowa and Washington state, respectively, we agree wholeheartedly. From Ames to Yakima, all Americans want to see an energy policy that leaves our great nation an even better place for their children and grandchildren.

America’s next-generation fuels put us on a path toward environmental, energy and economic security. The RFS has already helped steer entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and engineers toward even more breakthroughs for 21st century alternative fuels yet to be created. An America that runs on clean, renewable energy would help improve air quality for future generations. That’s why the American Lung Association has endorsed the RFS.  Alternative fuels — made here in the United States — have already helped turn the tide of what seemed like a never-ending story of our increased dependence on foreign oil.

Today, our oil import dependence is going down, and biofuels are a significant part of this new trajectory. Thousands of military veterans support the RFS. They understand that advanced biofuels could help prevent the loss of life or limb for future U.S. soldiers, seamen or marines. Preserving the RFS is a matter of public policy that is crucial to helping clean the air we breathe, diversifying the rural economy and creating good-paying jobs.

As U.S. senators representing farmers whose crops are helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions, workers who earn their livings at biorefineries, and the owners of personal vehicles, fleets, and ferries that are using renewable fuel every day to help lower our carbon footprint, we won’t stand still.

We are asking the EPA to help rev America’s economic engine. Giving the green light to RFS statutory targets would jump-start even more innovation, efficiency, investment and productivity already in the pipeline. Let’s prime America’s pump.
 
Grassley is the senior senator from Iowa, serving since 1981. He sits on the Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition and Forestry, and the Budget, Finance and Judiciary committees. Cantwell is the junior senator from Washington, serving since 2001. She is chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee and sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; and Finance committees.