House GOP to prioritize ethanol, pipeline legislation

House GOP to prioritize ethanol, pipeline legislation
© Greg Nash

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are planning to push legislation this year to change the federal ethanol mandate and make pipeline approvals easier.

Committee leaders said that the ethanol and pipeline policies are among the legislative priorities in their push to “put the consumer first and build policy from there,” as Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the newly minted chairman of the full committee, put it.

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusHouse panel votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project House GOP to prioritize ethanol, pipeline legislation House panel to consider ‘modernizing’ Clean Air Act, environmental laws MORE (R-Ill.), chairman of the environment subcommittee, told reporters Wednesday that he’s optimistic that some overhaul of the federal ethanol mandate can be passed into law this year, “really with the ultimate goal of just freeing up the market, getting rid of the mandate and letting competition fill the void.”  

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“That’s going to be a lot. That’s going to be a heavy lift,” Shimkus said. “So I hope we’ll be successful.”

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requires gasoline and diesel companies to blend biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel into their diesel fuels. The EPA determines the mandated volumes every year.

President Trump has said he supports the mandate, and his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has committed to enforcing it. But Pruitt has also expressed concern in the past about the impact of a high-volume mandate.

Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor who owns a refining company, is a top adviser to Trump and wants the EPA to make a change to the ethanol rules by requiring fuel wholesalers, not refiners, to comply.

Shimkus, however, said that wouldn’t be a good idea, since it would only benefit a minority of the interested parties.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the energy subcommittee and previous chairman of the full panel, said he hopes that policies to build out energy infrastructure including pipelines can become part of the infrastructure package that the House plans to debate later this year.

“Pipelines, we know, are the safest way of transporting oil and gas. And there’s a huge need for these,” he said.

The panel’s other energy and environment priorities include potentially reauthorizing the legislation for the Department of Energy, amending the Clean Air Act and working to restart planning and construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada.

“We’re very excited with the opportunity to address a need,” Shimkus said, adding that that legislation is likely to be done before the August break.