E2 Morning Roundup: Ethanol tax battle heats up. Plus, Upton vows end to Energy and Commerce Committee speechifying, report touts Atlantic wind power, and more.

Bipartisan Senate group calls for killing ethanol subsidies

Momentum may be building in the Senate for allowing ethanol tax breaks and import tariffs to expire at year’s end.

“These provisions are fiscally irresponsible and environmentally unwise, and their extension would make our country more dependent on foreign oil,” states a Nov. 30 letter from a bipartisan group of 17 senators to Senate leaders.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) spearheaded the letter. Other signers include Virginia’s two Democratic senators, and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others.

“Subsidizing blending ethanol into gasoline is fiscally indefensible. If the current subsidy is extended for five years, the Federal Treasury would pay oil companies at least $31 billion to use 69 billion gallons of corn ethanol that the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard already requires them to use. We cannot afford to pay industry for following the law,” the letter states.

It’s the latest sign of a left-right attack on the fuel subsidies, although the Capitol Hill politics of the issue are still more regional than partisan, with ethanol support running high in Midwest farm states.

Ethanol industry hits back

Ethanol industry trade groups quickly criticized the letter.

“Calling for the elimination of investment in domestic ethanol production may seem pennywise, but is extraordinarily pound foolish. Eliminating the tax incentive could erase the $3 billion of net revenue for federal tax coffers generated by the domestic ethanol industry in 2009 and put tens of thousands of Americans out of work,” the Renewable Fuels Association claimed in a statement Tuesday.

“As nearly 10 percent of Americans are still without work and some 800,000 facing the expiration of unemployment benefits, it is counterproductive to relegate thousands of additional Americans to the same fate,” the group adds.

But ethanol’s foes hope to capitalize on the Senate letter.

It comes on the heels of a separate anti-ethanol letter to Senate leaders from dozens of groups across the political spectrum, ranging from conservative Tea Party supporters to lefty green groups.

“With this message being cheered louder and louder from so many corners, surely Obama, Reid and McConnell  will finally put a dagger through the heart of this three decade old giveaway. After all, all they have to do is not proactively extend the tax credit and tariff,” writes the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nathanael Greene on the group’s blog.

Republicans audition for Energy and Commerce starring role

The quartet of House Republicans hoping to lead the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee made their pitches to the GOP’s Steering Committee in the Capitol Tuesday.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), who is currently the energy panel’s senior Republican, and Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.), Cliff Stearns (Fla.) and John Shimkus (Ill.) all want the job.

Stearns told reporters after his pitch to the steering group – which is slated to make decisions next week – that he emphasized his small business background.

“I made a strong case for myself as the only candidate who has actually developed jobs. Since the election was about jobs and about the deficit, I explained to them how I fulfilled the American dream and was able to create jobs through motels and restaurants,” he said.

Upton – who is considered the frontrunner – is trying to solidify his right-leaning credentials. His pitch to the group emphasizes his support from conservative figures like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes.

Upton, just before his presentation, told reporters that he’s primed to go after EPA climate change rules and other policies, vowing to work with the Appropriations Committee that can halt rules by freezing funding.

“It is our job to build the case of where they have gone overboard on these regulations and stop them,” he said. “We will do that not only through our oversight subcommittee and our legislative subcommittees, ultimately through the appropriations process when we identify such a troublesome provision, and we will be ready to move.”

Upton vows to kill opening statements

Emerging from the Steering Committee meeting, Upton played to the small crowd of reporters a bit.

He said that if he’s chairman, scores of committee members won’t give opening statements that typically precede witness testimony at hearings.

“Opening statements are over,” Upton said. “If you want to give an opening statement, [and] the hearing starts at 10, you show up at 9:30, because the hearing is going to start at 10.”

“Maybe we will have two rounds of questions instead of one,” he added. “But when we say it is going to start, the gavel is coming down.”

The committee has dozens of members who are each offered – and often accept – the chance to make several minutes of opening remarks, a repetitive process that can stretch hours.

The mini-speeches by rank-and-file members have probably been a boon to the Rayburn building’s coffee vendors, but they make hearing-watchers squirm.

On tap Wednesday: House climate panel gathers for last hurrah

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming meets for what could be its final hearing.

The panel will hold a hearing Wednesday titled, “Not Going Away: America's Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges.”

The session will include retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who is now a top official with the ethanol trade group Growth Energy, as well as environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Ascendant House Republicans are likely to dismantle the committee when they take control next year. But Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the panel’s ranking Republican, wants GOP leaders to keep the committee intact while re-tooling it as a check against EPA rules he calls economically harmful.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the panel shortly after Democrats took the House in the 2006 elections.

On tap Wednesday II: Report touts offshore wind potential

The National Wildlife Federation, backed by a suite of other groups, will unveil a study that says offshore wind power on the Atlantic Coast is the next big thing in clean energy.

“Atlantic states are poised to harness substantial offshore wind power according to a report that tallies the region’s clean energy potential offshore. For the entire coast, the report finds massive a renewable energy opportunity from wind in the Atlantic Ocean’s shallow waters where current technology is best suited,” the group said.

“The report will track proposed and advancing wind projects in each state and for the Atlantic as a whole, job opportunities, and policy steps that are needed,” an advisory states.

In case you missed E2 yesterday

Check out these Tuesday posts:

The first rule of Steering Committee is . . .

Rep. Barton: Term-limit waiver didn’t come up in Steering Committee

Candidates for House Appropriations gavel target EPA climate rules

Interior mulls policy on disclosure of gas 'fracking' fluids

Comparing oil sands waste to yogurt is allowed in Canada

States eye nationwide carbon market after climate bill’s death

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