Ethanol industry lobbies up

Pro-ethanol group Fuels America has signed with a pair of high-profile lobbyists from both parties as part of its effort to defend the federal ethanol blending mandate.

Documents filed with Congress in late February say that prolific Democratic fundraiser Heather Podesta of Heather Podesta + Partners and former Republican Speaker Denny Hastert of Dickstein Shapiro started representing the ethanol coalition’s interests on Capitol Hill in mid-January.

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“Our strong, bipartisan advocacy team will help us continue to make the case that the renewable fuel standard is helping lower gasoline prices, protect the environment, and create jobs here at home with American-made renewable fuel,” Fuels America spokesman Aaron Wells said of the new contracts.

The big-gun lobbying contracts arrive at a key moment for the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which requires that gasoline and diesel refiners blend ethanol and biodiesel into their traditional fuels.

The same week that the group filed the lobbying papers, Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override WH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report MORE (D-Calif.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced a bill aimed at eliminating the corn ethanol mandate.

Dozens of members of Congress from both parties support either repealing or significantly changing the mandate. The Feinstein-Toomey bill has wide support among lawmakers, as does an anti-mandate bill from Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteHow the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill Overnight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq Congress votes to override Obama for first time MORE (R-Va.).

The mandate also faces hurdles in the executive branch, where the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed issuing its 2014 blending volumes for 16 months.

Ethanol is under additional attacks from the oil industry, restaurants, auto advocates and some environmental groups.

Congress enacted the mandate in 2007 with the goal of reducing oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions. Opponents say it has done neither.

The ethanol industry, however, set a production record last year when it made 14.3 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Podesta and Hastert’s firms both said that the RFS would be their main focuses in the Fuels America contracts.

Fuels America, whose members represent various points in the ethanol production process, has dramatically increased its lobbying presence since it launched in 2012.

The group spent $820,000 lobbying last year, nearly double the $480,000 it spent in 2013, its first full year of operation, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group spent even more on advertising and promotion, with $1.8 million in expenses in 2013, according to reports filed with the IRS.

By comparison, the American Petroleum Institute — which wants the RFS completely eliminated because of the costs to fuel refiners — spent $9.09 million lobbying last year and $67.9 million on advertising and promotion in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available.

Fuels America has a history of using high-profile lobbyists. It brought on former Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt (Mass.) and his Delahunt Group last year, spending $210,000.

Since it was established in 2012, Fuels America has had an ongoing contract with the Glover Park Group, with which it has spent $1.2 million.