Groups battle over request from ranchers to ease ethanol rule

The groups are battling over the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which requires 15 billion gallons of domestic corn ethanol production by 2022.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a main corn ethanol lobby, sent a letter Friday to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE praising the Obama administration for sticking by the rule.

A collection of livestock interest groups responded by issuing an advisory for a Monday media call to discuss the need for changes to the fuel standards.

The rule has attracted attention amid the summer drought that is devastating corn supplies. Livestock groups say they are concerned the shrinking stocks, matched with a mandate for corn ethanol, will make it too expensive to continue all their feeding operations. In turn, that would increase consumer costs for pork, poultry and beef.

Republicans oppose the renewable fuels standard because they say it creates a mandate for a product that could not survive on its own.

The drought, which is projected to linger until October, has given the GOP another means to address the RFS while also helping out livestock groups, which overwhelmingly donate to Republicans. Some Democrats also have pushed for changes to the standard to throw farmers a lifesaver as the House debates action on the farm bill.

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman with the Renewable Fuels Association, said he is expecting parties opposed to the rule to file a waiver request on Monday.

“We strongly disagree with any rationale supporting a waiver of the 2012 RFS in any fashion and believe that the market data and built-in flexibility of the RFS will trigger a denial of any waiver request,” Hartwig said Friday in an email.

The EPA has authority to waive all or part of the renewable fuel standard. EPA’s threshold for granting a waiver is if the rule causes severe economic or environmental harm.

But proving that harm is difficult. EPA in 2008 rejected Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s exemption request. It said the standard contributed to, but did not cause, the economic conditions for which Perry sought relief.

The RFA letter thanked Vilsack and Jackson for their “unwavering commitment” to the RFS. Vilsack last week said there is “no need” to adjust the standard because plenty of ethanol is locked away in storage.