Congress considering overhaul of 2007 ethanol mandate
Congress is seriously considering an overhaul of the 2007 energy law that requires a growing amount of ethanol and other biofuels to be used by the nation’s 240 million cars and trucks.
A House Energy and Commerce panel held a hearing Wednesday on the requirements. It took place two days after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reverse an EPA decision to approve E15 gasoline — which contains 15 percent ethanol versus the 10 percent found at most pumps now — for vehicles from model year 2001 and newer.
“We need to review this and changes need to be made,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Commitee, in an interview, who hopes to win passage of a reform bill later this year. “We’re hoping to come up with something that’s reasonable and constructive and bipartisan.”
Under the Renewable Fuel Standard updated in 2007, the United States is increasing ethanol use in vehicles to at least 13.8 billion gallons this year, up from 5 billion gallons in 2007 and 2 billion in 2002. By 2022, the U.S. must use 36 billion gallons of biofuels, with 21 billion gallons of that from advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol made from sources other than corn.
In order to meet the mandate, the EPA may require more corn-based ethanol this year.
Adam Sieminksi, who heads the U.S. Energy Information Administration, told the committee that the U.S. is “not projected to come close to achievement of the legislated target that calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable motor fuels use by 2022” and is expected to be 10 billion gallons short, nearly all among the advanced biofuels.
He wants to take into account the interests of all the stakeholders: oil and gas companies, corn growers, automakers and consumers, among others. “This a little bit like balancing two basketballs on top of each other,” he said.
Another hearing and bipartisan briefing paper are planned for next month.
Members of both parties think changes are needed. One major problem is the mandates don’t vary with overall fuel consumption. Since Americans are driving more fuel-efficient cars, they are burning less gasoline, but the mandates are unchanged. The use of ethanol is also boosting corn prices and has been criticized by livestock ranchers, frozen food companies and others that rely on corn.
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Henry Waxman, of California, also wants reforms. In an interview, he said he isn’t ready to announce what changes he wants, but said his key goal is an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The standard “is not without flaws. As our gasoline consumption goes down and the renewable fuel mandate increases, we could reach the ‘blend wall,’ where adding more ethanol to the fuel supply could damage some engines,” Waxman said.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, called Wednesday for a full repeal of the law. But Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who chaired the hearing, said he wants a program that works. “We want is an RFS (renewable fuel standard) that can work for everyone involved, be it farmers, renewable fuel producers, refiners, and automakers. And most importantly, we want a policy that benefits the American driving public,” he said.
The Detroit News