Conservative group spends six figures on ads against ethanol mandate

A conservative energy group is running a six-figure advertising campaign against senators who are trying to reform the nation’s ethanol blending mandate.

The American Energy Alliance (AEA), the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research, is complaining that amendment language proposed by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Cybersecurity: Hackers hit Brexit petition Senate Intel leader: ISIS using encrypted apps to plan attacks Meet the man who sparked the Democratic revolt on guns MORE (D-Calif.) will do more harm than good, because it preserves much of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and does not repeal it.

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In one ad targeted to run in Pennsylvania, the group asks, “Does Sen. Toomey want you to pay more for gas? His plan to reform ‘the renewable fuel standard’ will raise gas prices.”

Other ads are running in the Washington, D.C. area.

Toomey is running for reelection this year in a seat that Democrats have eyed as one of their top targets.

AEA, which is backed by fossil fuel companies and partially funded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, said its spending six figures on the campaign.

“The RFS is a broken policy and no amount of tinkering is going to fix it,” Tom Pyle, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The RFS requires fuel refiners to blend certain amounts of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel into their products.

The Toomey-Feinstein language was filed Wednesday as a proposed amendment to the Senate’s broad energy bill being debated.

It reflects legislation the two have previously sponsored aimed at reducing the amount of corn ethanol used to comply with the RFS. It aims to preserve specific mandates for other biofuels that are produced through different methods, sometimes from plant waste products.

Opponents of corn ethanol say that other biofuels are more environmentally friendly and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s important to consumers, it’s important to anybody who’s raising livestock, it’s important to the dairy industry, it’s important to refiners, it’s important to people who care about the environment,” Toomey said shortly before filing the amendment.

The Philadelphia area has one of the largest concentrations of fuel refiners on the East Coast.

Ethanol groups have fought back against the Toomey-Feinstein legislation.

“Senators Feinstein and Toomey continue to operate under the misguided assumption that the RFS is driving food prices higher,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said last year when it was introduced as a standalone bill. "Corn is less expensive today than when the RFS was passed." 

Also on Thursday, AEA led 15 conservative and free-market groups with an open letter to lawmakers against the amendment.

Separately, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is sponsoring an amendment to the energy bill to completely repeal the RFS.

“Right now we have a policy rooted in 2005 geopolitics, with a hope that it will be good for the environment,” Cassidy said Thursday. “Empirically, we no longer need it. We’re more secure now, with domestic North American oil production. But it’s terrible for our environment.”