Energy & Environment

Dem bill would overhaul ethanol mandate

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A new bill from two Democrats would overhaul the federal government’s ethanol mandate in an attempt to reduce incentives for corn-based ethanol and similar biofuels.

The legislation from Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.) aims to boost so-called second-generation biofuels, those made from feedstock like waste products and woody crops.

It is an attempt to reduce the climate change impacts of first-generation biofuels, which some environmentalists say incentivizes destruction of wild lands and pastures to grow corn, soybean and other crops.


“A standard that was intended to benefit the environment may well be hurting it. Instead of promoting the kind of advanced biofuels that might deliver real benefits, the [renewable fuel standard] RFS has supported fuels that are not much cleaner than gasoline and not any more efficient,” Udall told reporters Thursday.

“With climate change, we can’t afford to mandate conventional biofuels that lead to even high emissions than gasoline. That certainly wasn’t the intent of the RFS,” he said.

The bill from Udall and Welch comes amid growing calls for reforming the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RFS program, which mandates that fuel refiners blend certain volumes of biofuels into their fossil fuel products like gasoline and diesel.

The GOP, spurred on by the recent bankruptcy of a major Philadelphia refiner, is considering ideas to change either the law or its implementation.

Republicans from oil- and refinery-heavy areas are pushing to cap the cost of the renewable fuel credits that refiners must buy if they don’t blend biofuels, but corn-state Republicans are pushing back and defending ethanol.

The Democrats’ bill, dubbed the Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible (Greener) Fuels Act, would cap the amount of first-generation ethanol that could be used to comply with the mandate, invest billions in incentives to restore wildlife habitat and limit the amount of new vegetable oil that could be used for biodiesel.

Environmental groups applauded the bill.

“This critical legislation offers common-sense solutions that protect wildlife, drinking water, and public health, while supporting family farms and putting the nation on track to meet its clean fuel goals the right way,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

But the ethanol industry criticized it. Groups representing the industry say ethanol has real environmental benefits, and the bill would threaten that.

“When oil companies try to ghost write legislation for environmental front groups, you end up with some pretty backwards ideas, and that’s exactly what this appears to be. It’s dead on arrival with any lawmaker who cares about the climate, energy security, or the farm economy,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy.

“Rather than undermine a policy that has displaced nearly 2.5 billion barrels of imported oil and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 780 million metric tons, Congress should work to ensure that U.S. consumers can choose the lowest carbon fuels at the pump,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

“And rather than roll back progress in cellulosic and advanced biofuel production, Congress should exercise its oversight authority to urge EPA to rapidly approve new biofuel technologies and provide new pathways to the transportation fuel marketplace,” Erickson said.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Ethanol Peter Welch Renewable Fuel Standard Tom Udall
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