EPA faces '14 accusations on ethanol

The American Petroleum Institute and renewable energy groups are furious with the Environmental Protection Agency for “playing politics” with the nation’s ethanol mandate. 

These groups rarely see eye to eye, but they both agree the Obama administration is flip-flopping on the Renewable Fuel Standard to save face as the midterm elections approach — or as Jon Doggett of the National Corn Growers Association put it, “for all the wrong reasons.”

“Again and again and again, we find ourselves at the mercy of policies that can be changed for all the wrong reasons,” he said.

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires oil refiners to mix a certain amount of ethanol into their fuel before they ship it off to gas stations around the country.

Groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API) always want the mandate to be lowered to increase the amount of crude oil in the supply, while some green groups also want to abolish the mandate, but for other reasons. 

The Environmental Working Group, for instance, argues that the Renewable Fuel Standard encourages farmers to cut down more trees so they have more fields to grow corn — a process that may actual use more energy and emit more greenhouse gases than traditional fuels. 

But the National Corn Growers Association and other pro-ethanol groups want the mandate to be raised.

Last November, the EPA proposed to cut the ethanol mandate for the first time to 15.21 billion gallons from 16.55 billion gallons in 2013, because some say ethanol is raising gas prices at the pump. 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Hundreds of former EPA officials call for House probe, say agency's focus on California is politicized It's time for Congress to address the 'forever chemical' crisis MORE is now signaling that the agency will do a 180 degree turn and actually raise the ethanol mandate when it releases the new Renewable Fuel Standard in the coming weeks.

“Moving forward, the administration is very committed to renewable fuels and to having a strategy that consistently increases that,” McCarthy said earlier this month during a speech in New York City when asked about the upcoming ethanol mandate.

McCarthy's comments have API up in arms, because what the oil industry once thought of as a step in the right direction has now all but disappeared.

Bob Greco, the API’s top fuels expert, says the Obama administration is caving to political pressure to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

In the Iowa Senate race, Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell Braley2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward MORE (D) is running to fill retiring Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE’s (D-Iowa) seat and has asked the administration to protect the ethanol mandate, which he argues has created tens of thousands of jobs in his corn-growing state.

“You don’t have to be a political insider to see how the Iowa Senate race — and the White House’s fear they will lose control of the Senate — plays into this decision,” Greco argued.

“Rather than protecting [Senate Majority Leader] Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump thanks Reid for warning Democrats not to underestimate him Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment MORE’s job, Obama ought to be putting the interests of consumers first,” Greco said.

Renewable energy groups have also expressed frustration with the Obama administration, arguing political pressure affects the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“Politics are playing a role on both sides and not just in the Iowa Senate race,” Doggett said.

The ethanol mandate has long been sacrosanct in Iowa, one of the nation’s top corn-producing states. Over the years, candidates for president in both parties have backed the mandate while seeking to win the nation’s first presidential caucus state.

The renewable energy groups point out that McCarthy hinted the EPA is considering raising the mandate only because demand for gasoline is growing, but if demand were to fall again they’re afraid they could be stuck in the same position consistently seeking a higher mandate.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said lack of consistent growth in the Renewable Fuel Standard has “undercut” and “chilled” investment in the industry.

Steve Hartig, general manager at Poet DSM Advanced Biofuels, called the EPA’s recent fluctuations on the Renewable Fuel Standard “very discouraging.”

“What we’d like is for them to stick with the law and move forward,” Hartig said.