Biofuel groups swing back at oil industry, defend federal blending mandate

Biofuel groups are swinging back at oil industry attacks on a federal biofuel-blending mandate with an ad campaign targeting lawmakers and viewers inside the Beltway.

Fuels America, a coalition of biofuel organizations, launched a campaign Monday that includes print, television and online ads as well as ads on the D.C. Metro system. The effort comes as the House Energy and Commerce Committee prepares to host a two-day hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

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The advertisements will run through the end of the year. While Fuels America didn’t release a dollar figure for the endeavor, Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen said the cost reflects “a very serious effort.”

The advertisements revolve around the slogan “there is a choice,” underscoring charges by the biofuel industry that oil firms want to dismantle the Renewable Fuel Standard to keep the market reserved for conventional petroleum.

The initiative comes as the Renewable Fuel Standard’s opponents are increasing pressure, and both the House and the Senate are ramping up oversight of the rule.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the panel's ranking member, have released a series of white papers on the topic, setting the stage for possible legislation.

They’ll test the waters on that front with the two-day hearing that begins Tuesday.

Separately, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last week pledged to look into the Renewable Fuel Standard, saying he has concerns about whether the mandate’s blending targets can be met.

The oil industry, meat producers and some green groups hold those concerns as well.

They’re pushing either for a repeal of or changes to the rule, which requires refiners to combine 36 billion gallons of biofuel with conventional petroleum by 2022.

Environmental groups are pushing lawmakers for more targeted tweaks, largely affecting the corn ethanol portion of the mandate.

The oil industry wants a full repeal. They say refiners are approaching a “blend wall,” forcing them to blend higher concentrations of ethanol blends to meet the mandate’s accelerating targets.

Its main trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, started an advertising campaign earlier this month that took shots at the standard.

The biofuel industry is pushing back.

Tom Buis, chief executive of corn ethanol group Growth Energy, on Monday called the oil industry’s efforts a “desperate attempt to get congress to change law because they’re afraid of competition.”

The standard’s supporters say it’s been an economic boon for rural communities.

They also contend changing it would spook investment in next-generation biofuels. Those biofuels have been slow to come online, but advocates say facilities are just now starting to churn them out in commercial volumes.

Full repeal seems an unlikely outcome, as the standard has a devoted bloc of Midwest and rural boosters on both sides of the aisle.

The Obama administration also has voiced support for the mandate. Heather Zichal, President Obama’s top climate and energy adviser, stumped for the standard in an event last week hosted by The Hill.

More specific changes, however, remain a possibility. Some key lawmakers, including biofuel backer Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power, have said alterations could be in the offing.

The biofuel industry has maintained that the Environmental Protection Agency has enough authority to address the issues its opponents have raised.

The EPA has “more than enough flexibility,” Dinneen said. “We don’t see any need for legislation.”

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