Two opponents’ press events this week calling for “extensive reform” or outright repeal of EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), countered by the Secretary of Agriculture reminding the annual meeting of the Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA) he supports ethanol and the RFS, words bolstered by an Iowa House member’s vow to preserve the RFS, punctuated the escalating political food-versus-fuel debate.
RFS President Bob Dineen told 1,100 attendees at RFA’s National Ethanol Conference in Las Vegas this week, “The state of the ethanol industry can be summed up in five words: Under siege and fighting back.”
Dineen said his group’s priorities are defending federal programs; promoting E15 motor fuels, and opening export markets for ethanol.
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the RFA “The biodiesel industry is making us a more secure country… (but ethanol is challenged) by those who perpetuate the falsehood that you are asking this country to choose between food and fuel.”
In Washington, D.C., ag economist Dr. Tom Elam, president of FarmEcon LLC, appeared at a livestock/poultry industry press conference on behalf of the National Chicken Council (NCC) and the National Turkey Federation (NTF), and said, “The RFS is broken, but Congress can fix the rule by acting now and opening an inclusive, robust debate that leads to extensive reform.”
Referring to 2007, the first year the RFS mandated ethanol – currently mostly refined from corn – be blended with gasoline, as a “game changer,” Elam crystallized industry’s concern by saying, “We did not then and still do not today, have the volume of agricultural raw materials, or the required cellulosic ethanol technology to met the 2007 RFS goals. Nearly, six years later, it’s still not a commercial reality.”
A second coalition of RFS opponents, lead by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) told reporters the RFS is causing higher food prices in developing countries, is forcing U.S. fuel prices to move higher and is causing automobile engine damage.
Rep. Steve King (R, IA), still contemplating a run for the Senate in 2014 to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA), said this week he opposes changing or eliminating the RFS, saying the government must play a “vital role” in helping the biofuels industry attract investment capital.
“There’ll be a fight in here in Congress and I’m going to be on the side of protecting, preserving and defending the RFS. If you open up the standard, you open up a can of worms.” King was responding in part to a statement made earlier this week by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R, KY), chair of the energy and power subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
Whitfield wants to hold hearings to see if the RFS can be modified to benefit all stakeholders. “We’ll get all sides of the issue and proceed in a cautious way,” he said.