Lawmakers line up to knock ethanol mandate

Lawmakers line up to knock ethanol mandate
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Members of a House panel on Wednesday ramped up their criticism of the federal ethanol mandate. 

During an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, members asked a top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official to justify the Obama administration’s handling of the ethanol mandate, an implementation strategy that has rankled industry groups on both sides of the issue. 

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“We are proposing volumes that, once again, would require significant growth in renewable fuel production and use over historical levels, directionally consistent with congressional intent,” said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. 

“While not as high as the statutory volumes, they are intended to drive increased production and use of renewable fuel.”

The EPA in May announced a plan to require oil refiners blend 18.8 billion gallons of biofuels into the country’s gasoline and diesel supply next year. The standards are higher than last year, but below those set by Congress — a fact that has angered the biofuels industry — and at a level the oil sector argues goes beyond what consumers can use. 

Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned whether Congress should get involved and reform or even repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). 

“At what point will you agree with the majority of the panel that the law is simply unworkable?” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). He asked McCabe if the ethanol industry would disappear without a federal blending mandate, and she said, “I don’t expect that it would.”

Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions New Dem star to rattle DC establishment Overnight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases MORE (D-Vt.) criticized the mandate, saying it has hurt carburetors of his constituents. 

“The RFS mandate has been a well-intended flop,” said Welch.

The mandate’s supporters, though, say the program is working as it should be, supporting an expanding ethanol economy in rural areas and increasing the amount of cleaner-burning fuel in the gasoline supply. 

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) asked McCabe how the EPA has dealt with lawsuits from both sides related to annual blending targets. 

“You're going to have people from different vantage points having very strong views of it,” she said. 

“But we think we are doing what we’re supposed to do which is to look at the information, to talk to everybody to understand the industry as well as we can and do our very best to implement what we understand the intent of Congress to be, which is to have more renewable fuels in our transportation supply.”

Members, especially Republicans, have introduced a handful of bills related to the RFS, including those to repeal it or codify a maximum blending level for refiners.

But lawmakers indicated Wednesday they know legislation on the matter is likely to stall in Congress this year. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said, “it will be better when we work together than when we work apart” on ethanol, and Barton acknowledged the issue likely won’t come up this year. 

“I’m not sure we can legislate this year, but I hope this is something we can do in the near future,” he said.