US Senate group starts up “seed to wheel” review of US Renewable Fuel Standard

May 30, 2012 |

The US Renewable Fuel Standard: Time to Add, Modify or Delete?

In Washington, staff members working for least eight US Senators will join a study group aimed at a “seed-to-wheel examination of the US Renewable Fuel Standard,” the Digest has learned.

The goal of the study group is to examine which provisions are working, and which provisions could be improved in the 113th Congress. The intent of the study group is to put the key biofuels and RFS elements on the table for a more in-depth discussion and analysis of issues.

The study group, styled “the Biofuels Investment and RFS Market Congressional Study Group,” is planning to commence its work in mid-June, and continue its sessions until late September, when Congress takes its election-season recess. Each session would last approximately one hour, and is directed toward congressional staff of Members on key committees of jurisdiction or from offices who have a particular interest in the subject.

Members of the group

The founders of the working group say that the goal is to have 20-30 core staff attending the series to learn about these issues.

The group’s founders: James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Christopher Coons, D-Del.

“I’ve had problems with ethanol for as long as I can remember, and I’m going to be doing what I can to relieve that and do away with the mandate, actually,” Inhofe told the National Journal Daily.

Coons, generally a strong supporter of renewable energy, has come under strong pressure from the National Chicken Councol and Delaware poultry producers to allow for waive down of US ethanol mandates, should US corn production fall below anticipated levels.

The National Journal is reporting that Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska have indicated an interest in participation.

In addition, the Digest has learned that Maria Cantwell, D-Wash; John Boozman, R-Ark, Max Baucus, D-Mont; and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa are also possible group participants. In part, member selection has been designed to make the group not only bi-partisan, but connected to the broad set of committees that have a stake in alternative fuels.

Focus of attention

The group will examine market impacts, environmental issues, food price impacts, feedstocks, infrastructure and logistics, investment comity views on alternative fuels development, and the views of customers and mid-stream and end-users.

The group will commence its work as a coalition of food groups, environmentalists and the oil industry gear up for what is expected to be an all-out, 31-month long campaign against the US Renewable Fuel Standard, aimed at repealing or substantially altering the standard by the end of the 113th Congress in January 2015.

Coalition of the Unwilling

The same coalition was responsible for an all-out lobbying offensive that resulted in the repeal of the ethanol blender’s tax credit in 2011, although pro-ethanol groups such as Growth Energy had abandoned the tax credit in hopes of shifting financial support to programs such as blender pumps that would open up the market to higher blends of ethanol.

While generally united against the expanded corn ethanol targets in the revised RFS2 that was passed during the Bush Administration, the coalition may find itself fracturing over the question of support for advanced biofuels. Food giant Tyson Foods is a joint venture partner in the largest producer of advanced biofuels in the US, Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels.

In addition, BP, Shell, Total, Chevron, Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips have invested substantial amounts in advanced biofuels producers. Major oil refiners such as Valero and Tesoro have invested in numerous advanced biofuels ventures.

Among environmental groups, the National Wildlife Federation has taken a leading role in the Roundtable of Sustainable Biofuels, and NWF senior policy advisor Barbara Bramble is chair of that multi-stakeholder, international organization.

BP has been working closely with Dupont, Novozymes and other companies in industrial biotechnology in an effort to “maintain the RFS”, and the split in the industry over the RFS, in some ways, reflects the reaction by individual companies, following passage of the revised RFS in 2007.

BP: “Galvanized into action by RFS2”

BP Biofuels CEO Philip New said, in an address at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference last month in Washington that “the passage of RFS2 galvanized us into action,” and BP’s global biofuels workforce, 4,000 strong, now represents 6 percent of the oil giant’s global workforce.

The working group plans to look at hot button issues, including efforts by companies such as Celanese to permit natural gas-to-ethanol conversion to be included under the RFS, the E10 blend wall, the introduction of E15 ethanol blending. The group also proposes to look in-depth at the financial instruments required to scale up an alternative fuels industry, including venture capital, the role of large strategic investors, tax equity investment, debt financing, and the structure of customer off-take agreements.

Among environmental topics, soil quality, water quality, air quality and biodiversity are on the topic list, while RFS mechanics such as the cellulosic waiver, trading irregularities in renewable fuel credits (known as RINs), and product liability will be examined by the group.

The bottom line

This is going to be a critical forum for the RFS2. Here in Digestville, we can’t think of anything more mission critical for the industry to figure out how to effectively participate, than this.

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