A Tale of Two Californians

December 13, 2013 |

CapitolAs Senator Barbara Boxer nixes action on Renewable Fuel Standard reform legislation through the Environment and Public Works committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein co-sponsors a bill to strip corn ethanol out of the RFS altogether.

Just as the EPA issues a report showing that the US is turning the corner on reducing dependency on imported oil.

In Washington, another busy week on the Hill, as attention shifted from traumatic EPA hearings on the Renewable Fuel Standard and over to hearing on RFS reform held by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer.

The good news? As the hearings ended, Boxer told the attendees, “”As the chairman of this committee — I have the gavel for now — I’m not going to let us reverse course on that. I just am not.”

At the same time, the EPA looked generally terrible as it was beat up all day for missing its annual deadlines for setting RFS obligations — for the fourth year in a row. Chris Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said he “wasn’t proud” of the EPA’s record, but vowed efforts to get “back on track” with a new process for establishing targets. The missed deadlines have led to an epic set of lawsuits from obligated parties forced to scramble to comply.

But the senior senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, co-sponsored legislation to strip corn ethanol altogether out of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Biofuels leaders blast the bill

As is often the case, the Advanced Ethanol Council’s executive director Brooke Coleman made the case for sanity.

“If the United States is going to emerge as the global leader in the development of advanced fuels and technologies, the country needs to stop spending so much time looking backwards,” said AEC Executive Director, Brooke Coleman. “More than 90 percent of the gallons required for future blending under the RFS are advanced biofuel gallons, yet Senators Feinstein and Coburn are proposing to open up the standard and the Clean Air Act (CAA) to try to kick corn ethanol in the shins. This makes no sense.”

“Going after first generation ethanol to facilitate next generation ethanol makes no more sense than going after first generation solar and wind to facilitate next generation solar and wind. It weakens the interest in innovation among existing industry players,” Coleman said.

Second, because the RFS is part of the Clean Air Act, it requires opening up the Act and exposing a myriad of other clean air programs to political attack. “The bigger picture here is in order for this bill ever to see the light of day, the political process requires that Congress would also be having a broader conversation about what else the Clean Air Act (CAA) should be changed. Is that what Senator Feinstein wants?”

“There is a growing recognition in Congress that the RFS is really about advanced biofuels from here on out. So it does not make a whole lot of sense to start opening up the CAA and the RFS to political attack to achieve an objective already achieved by existing law.”

Over at Growth Energy, CEO Tom Buis added:

“This legislation is incredibly shortsighted as it will eviscerate the RFS – the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years. It will continue to keep us addicted to foreign oil and more than anything, it seems like this legislation is appeasing the wishes of Big Oil and Big Food.

Meanwhile, RFA CEO Bob Dinneen blasted the proposed bill. “This is monumentally stupid. This legislation ought to be entitled ‘The Oil Monopoly Protection Act of 2013.’ This bill would deprive Americans of cost-saving, renewable fuel choice. It would set this country back in its quest to gain energy independence and further damage the environment by increasing the need for fracking, tar sands, and off-shore drilling.”

Dinneen continued, “What makes this bill so nonsensical is its timing. Farmers across this country have just finished harvesting the single largest corn crop in history. Corn surpluses are headed higher and corn prices headed lower. In some areas corn prices have already fallen below the cost of production, and below where corn prices were on the day President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007 into law ($4.34/bushel). This legislation would take away demand for corn at a time when farmers need it most. It would increase farm program costs and destabilize this country’s agricultural industry.”

A win on mileage and emissions

The moves on Capitol Hill come as the US had good news out of EPA on fuel economy. The annual EPA report shows that model year 2012 vehicles achieved an all-time high fuel economy of 23.6 miles per gallon (mpg). This represents a 1.2 mpg increase over the previous year, making it the second largest annual increase in the last 30 years.

Fuel economy has now increased in seven of the last eight years, and by 2.6 mpg, or 12 percent, since 2008, and by 4.3 mpg, or 22 percent, since 2004. 

Under the Obama Administration’s National Clean Car Program standards, fuel economy standards will double by 2025 and cut vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by half. The standards will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 will result in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 per vehicle.

The program will also save 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 will reduce oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil imported from OPEC every day.

The EPA report is here.

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