Congress is in a holding pattern on rewriting the renewable fuels mandate, as an Environmental Protection Agency plan to cut the quota has curbed unease about the program, a lawmaker involved in the negotiations said.
Illinois Republican John Shimkus, a member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, was one of four lawmakers tapped by colleagues last year to negotiate an overhaul to the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard. Today he said that group’s efforts are stalled because the EPA has proposed cutting the requirements for ethanol and other biofuels. A final rule is scheduled to be released in the coming months.
“We’re in a holding pattern to see what the EPA does,” Shimkus said in a meeting with Bloomberg News reporters and editors in Washington today. “I think there’s not enough bluster to get a real legislative change.”
Shimkus faces divided pressures about the program, as his southern Illinois district is both a major corn producer and home to two refineries. Corn growers support the mandate, which has driven demand for corn-based ethanol, and have criticized the EPA’s plan to cut the quota. Refiners have called for scrapping the quotas altogether, and say ethanol and other biofuels should compete in the open market.
Before the EPA’s proposal was released, ethanol makers and corn growers urged lawmakers to avoid rewriting the 2007 law and trust the EPA to make the appropriate changes, and so “it’s hard for me” not to do so now, Shimkus said.
In a draft rule released in November, the EPA said it would require between 15 billion to 15.52 billion gallons of renewable fuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel in 2014, compared to the 18.15 billion gallon quota set in the legislation. It would be the first time the legal mandate would be cut.
Refiners, fast-food restaurants, motorboat makers and chicken farmers have all pushed the EPA to scale back the ethanol mandate, saying it risks ruining engines by forcing more ethanol to be blended into gasoline and increases demand for corn. Gasoline needs are falling, and so rising requirements for renewable fuels are ramping up the percentage of those fuels in the total mix, putting the amount of ethanol near the 10 percent refiners label the ‘‘blend wall’’ that can damage engines.
“The blend wall is really the big debate,” Shimkus said.