Con­tro­ver­sial ethanol sale bill sinks in Sen­ate com­mit­tee

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

In a ma­jor de­feat for the ethanol in­dus­try, se­na­tors of both par­ties joined forces late last week to sink a con­tro­ver­sial bill that would’ve al­lowed ga­so­line with 15 per­cent ethanol to be sold year-round.

The mea­sure had be­come a flash point on Capi­tol Hill, di­vid­ing both Repub­li­cans and Democrats — with se­na­tors from ethanol-pro­duc­ing states sup­port­ing the bill — while also unit­ing di­verse groups in op­po­si­tion, such as en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, boaters and mo­tor­cy­clists. The leg­is­la­tion also rep­re­sented a key op­por­tu­nity for the ethanol sec­tor, as the ex­pan­sion of E15 sales would’ve been a fi­nan­cial boon and, to at least some de­gree, a mar­ket­place de­feat for the oil in­dus­try.

The bill was co-spon­sored by Repub­li­can Sens. Deb Fis­cher of Ne­braska and Charles E. Grass­ley of Iowa, and Demo­cratic Sen. Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana. De­spite that bi­par­ti­san sup­port, the leg­is­la­tion in the end was un­able to muster enough sup­port in the Sen­ate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee.

Com­mit­tee lead­ers an­nounced that there would be no ac­tion on the bill be­fore the Au­gust re­cess, though it’s un­clear whether it’ll be res­ur­rected some­time in the fall.

Ethanol sec­tor lead­ers be­moaned the de­lay but said the bat­tle for E15 isn’t fin­ished.

“We will con­tinue to work with our bi­par­ti­san spon­sors to en­act this bill to pro­vide driv­ers across the coun­try cleaner fuel op­tions year-round that are bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and save Amer­i­cans money every time they fill up the gas tank,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth En­ergy, which rep­re­sents ethanol pro­duc­ers.

E15, a less com­mon coun­ter­part to the more widely avail­able E10, is cur­rently avail­able in 29 states, but fed­eral law re­stricts its sale be­tween June and Septem­ber.

The rules were put in place to limit ozone which causes smog dur­ing hot months. Sup­port­ers of the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory struc­ture say E15 causes far more smog than the more widely used E10, though ethanol pro­po­nents dis­pute that claim and ar­gue that the tech­nol­ogy is such that E15 isn’t a threat to the air.

E10 is avail­able na­tion­wide and year-round thanks to the fed­eral Re­new­able Fuel Stan­dard, a pro­gram es­tab­lished in 2007 that re­quires in­creased amounts of ethanol to be blended into the na­tion’s ga­so­line sup­ply. Each year, the pro­gram con­sis­tently falls short of the blend lev­els ini­tially called for by Congress in the 2007 bill.

Due to those un­der­ly­ing struc­tural prob­lems with the RFS, crit­ics say, it’s fool­ish to pass new leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing even more ethanol to en­ter the fuel mar­ket.

“With all the prob­lems with the RFS it would be ir­re­spon­si­ble of the Congress to give them this waiver with­out ad­dress­ing the larger is­sues with the pro­gram,” Sen. James In­hofe, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, said on the Sen­ate floor last week.

High­light­ing the di­ver­sity among op­po­nents of the RFS and E15 sales, Mr. In­hofe’s views were echoed last week by for­mer Rep. Henry Wax­man, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who dur­ing his time in Wash­ing­ton was one of the loud­est en­vi­ron­men­tal voices in Congress.

Like other ethanol de­trac­tors, Mr. Wax­man said the next gen­er­a­tion of bio­fu­els hasn’t come to pass as ex­pected, and the in­dus­try re­mains re­liant on corn-based ethanol to meet its fed­eral man­dates.

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