Calls For RFS Reform As Ethanol Battle Continues
The Renewable Fuel Standard had its day at the White House, with President Trump hearing from ethanol supporters on policies to ease the expanded use of the fuels, and opponents calling for reform and even an end to mandate they say hurts consumers and does little to help the environment.
Trump met with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at the White House earlier today to discuss the controversial Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates favored by ethanol supporters in states like Iowa but opposed by agricultural associations, manufacturers, recreational advocates, and taxpayer coalitions.
The RFS is a federal requirement that mandates fuels used for transportation incorporate a minimum volume of renewable fuels, like ethanol, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease our reliance on foreign oil.
Sen. Cruz tweeted, “Terrific final decision from @POTUS meeting: E15, year-round plus RINs [Renewable Identification Numbers] for all exports. This is a WIN-WIN for everyone. More corn will be sold (good for farmers), plus lower RINs (saves blue-collar refinery jobs), plus more ethanol exports (good for America).”
That includes allowing ethanol exports to receive RFS credits and permit year-round 15-percent ethanol fuel sales. Ethanol has been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency from June to September because of its contributions to smog during the heat of the summer months. RINs are required to insure blending of the renewable fuel with gasoline and other motor fuels.
Trump left the details of the deal to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, both of whom were in attendance at the meeting.
While corn-producing states are in favor of the ethanol mandate due to the demand it creates for their crop, other groups oppose the RFS because of the additional costs it places on consumers and its impact on the environment through agricultural runoff, habitat destruction, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Groups in outright opposition to the RFS or calling for reform have launched media campaigns and sent letters to Congress asking for RFS review.
“For more than a decade – as our nation’s energy outlook has positively transformed thanks to free market competition and private sector ingenuity, not government’s heavy hand – American consumers, family farmers and refiners have suffered under this economically destructive policy,” said American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle.
“Only in Washington are additional special interest handouts considered ‘fixes’ or ‘solutions,’” added Pyle. “Enough is enough. It’s time for Washington to finally repeal the RFS, get government out of the business of picking winners and losers, and let the free market move our energy economy forward.”
AEA’s six-figure digital ad buy, “Enough Is Enough,” is slated to run in New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, along with Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
“The Renewable Fuel Standard was supposed to help American farmers and make our country energy independent. But after ten years, consumers, family farmers, and American refiners are stuck with the bill,” the ad says.
AEA advocates for the complete repeal of RFS mandates.
Sophie Shemas, a Public Lands Fellow at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, says in a letter to the editor published by the Santa Fe New Mexican the RFS has failed to achieve its goals, leading to unintended consequences.
“The Renewable Fuel Standard is a federal program meant to combat climate change by diversifying our alternative fuel portfolio. Unfortunately, the program has not lived up to this original mission — only fuels from corn ethanol have seen successful production levels, cropland conversion has caused widespread habitat destruction, and it has failed to curb climate impacts,” she wrote.
Collin O’Mara, National Wildlife Federation President and CEO, supports RFS reform and the GREENER Fuels Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, (D-N.M.). The bill would phase out the mandate for corn ethanol, and cap the amount that could be blended into gasoline at 9.7 percent, just below the “blend wall” that represents the maximum amount of ethanol that can be safely used by most engines.
O’Mara called the reform effort a “a home run for wildlife, it’s a home run for water quality, it’s a home run for public health” as it represents a “significantly cleaner and more sustainable biofuels system.”
A wide-ranging coalition ranging from the American Motorcyclist Association and the National Taxpayers Union to Shemas’ National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club sent a letter last week asking for RFS reforms due to pressures on food and feed supply, wildlife habitat loss, damage to older or smaller engines, and the necessity for taxpayer protections.
“Reducing price volatility in the food and feed supply. As large shares of domestic corn and soy crops are now diverted from food use to fuel, producers of poultry, beef, pork and other livestock face volatile prices and increased competition for animal feed,” the groups wrote on April 30.
In addition to removing a “market distortion” that burdens consumers and taxpayers due to the RFS fuel mandate, the groups hoped to mitigate agricultural development encouraged by RFS.
“Millions of acres of native prairie and other ecosystems have come under large-scale agricultural development because of the RFS, endangering species habitat, exacerbating agricultural run-off and degrading water quality,” they continued.
Ethanol is also damaging for engines, especially small engines and those used for marine activities, such as lawn mowers, motorcycles, and boats, in addition to older automobiles incapable of using the fuel blend.
Smarter Fuel Future, a project of more than 50 groups representing agriculture, recreation, and public interest organizations, pointed to Iowa—seen as the bulwark of RFS policy—as not even “carrying its own weight in terms of RFS consumption” when looking at Iowans’ consumption of ethanol.
“Iowa—the number one ethanol producer and corn grower in the United States—reaps arguably the greatest benefits from the Renewable Fuel Standard program, but on average, there is less ethanol in the motor fuels that Iowans buy [at their local retailers] than what consumers buy in the rest of the country as a whole,” according to the group.
American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, American Bakers Association, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and the Dairy Producers of New Mexico are members of Smarter Fuel Future.