Overnight Regulation: EPA updates ethanol fuel mandate

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from Capitol Hill and beyond. It's Monday evening here in Washington, where lawmakers are trickling back into town after their Thanksgiving break.



The Obama administration will increase the amount of ethanol that is required to be mixed into gasoline next year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Monday that it is raising the controversial Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to 18.11 billion gallons in 2016, an increase over what it originally proposed in May, but still short of a 2007 threshold.


The RFS "is one of many aspects of the climate policies that this administration is pursuing," said Janet McCabe, assistant administrator at the EPA's office of air and radiation.

"Over time, there will be more and more choices in renewable fuels available to consumers," she told reporters on Monday.

The RFS, which requires oil refiners to mix biofuel into their gasoline supply, is hotly debated between pro-ethanol groups and the fuel industry.

Oil interests argue that increasing the amount of biofuel in gasoline will raise prices at the pump and do further damage to vehicle engines, warning that the current gasoline standard of just under 10 percent ethanol is as far as they can safely go.

But ethanol groups say these concerns are overblown because modern cars are certified to run on higher ethanol blends. 

They point out that the EPA's ethanol standard falls well below what Congress called for when lawmakers rewrote the law in 2007.

The debate crosses party lines in Washington, where lawmakers from corn-producing states support a higher ethanol standard. Many Republicans oppose the mandate because of its impact on the oil industry, and some Democrats, who question its environmental impact, are against it as well.

The deadline for the EPA to update the RFS was Monday.

The agency earlier this year proposed requiring oil refiners to blend 16.3 billion gallons of ethanol into their fuel in 2015, and 17.4 billion gallons next year, which means gasoline would have contained about 10 percent ethanol. Those figures jumped to 16.93 billion gallons this year and 18.11 billion next year.

Click here to get more on the reaction from both sides in the biofuels debate: http://bit.ly/1LJzpv9



The Obama administration will publish a number of new regulations, proposed rules, notices and other administrative actions in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

--The Department of Labor (DOL) will look into workplace protections at shipyards.

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will examine standards that protect shipyard employees from exposure to asbestos.

The agency is looking to renew its information collection request so it can continue studying the effectiveness of the rules, which include an exposure monitoring program for employees.

The public has 30 days to comment. http://bit.ly/1lUPclY

--The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will issue new safety recommendations for trains.

The safety advisory addresses so-called alerter systems in trains, which verify the locomotive engineer operating the train is awake and alert.

"A locomotive alerter is a safety feature installed on a locomotive to ensure the locomotive engineer remains alert while operating the locomotive," the agency writes.

"The alerter monitors the engineer's interactions with the locomotive and initially produces an alarm in the cab when no control actions are taken," it adds. http://bit.ly/1TgIPnJ

--The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will review its trade regulations.

As part of the review, the FTC is asking for public comment on the costs and benefits of the trade rule for preserving "consumers' claims and defenses."

The public has until Feb. 12 to comment. http://bit.ly/1YEft6k

--The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) will issue new retirement rules for workers participating in distressed pension plans.

The new rules address the value of early retirement benefits for these workers.

The changes go into effect on Jan. 1. http://bit.ly/1XsLOzG



Report highlights government bloat. http://bit.ly/1PWH6pw

Vaping industry wants to push back FDA grandfather date. http://bit.ly/1LIFB6P

Fed agrees to limit emergency lending powers. http://bit.ly/1NEidP8

Climate change, terrorism converge for Obama. http://bit.ly/1Nmbck1

Pope Francis warns of global 'suicide' without climate action. http://bit.ly/1Q9jk8l

Finance chairman targets museums. http://bit.ly/1Nj6AqA



$18 trillion: The size of the national debt.

380: The number of years it would take to pay off the national debt even if the federal government turned the deficit into a $50 billion surplus by next year, according to Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).



"There's this belief that [the federal debt is] so large, it's so difficult to take on, it's not fixable. It is fixable," – Sen. Lankford.


We'll work to stay on top of these and other stories throughout the week, so check The Hill's Regulation page (http://thehill.com/regulation) early and often for the latest. And send any comments, complaints or regulatory news tips our way, tdevaney@thehill.com or lwheeler@thehill.com. And follow us at @timdevaney and @wheelerlydia.

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