A bipartisan group of 31 U.S. Senators on Thursday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy opposing proposed volume reductions to the 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard.
According to the Senators, EPA's proposed rule will discourage investment, hurt job growth and have a negative impact on rural communities across the country. The Senators share concerns with a group of U.S. Representatives who sent the EPA a similar letter last week.
The comments stem from EPA's November proposal to reduce the total biofuels target in the RFS to 15.2 billion gallons – 1.34 billion gallons below the 2013 target of 16.55 billion gallons.
The proposed decrease is a departure from the original plan of the policy – to gradually ramp up ethanol and biofuels blending. Instead, the new proposal is nearly 3 billion gallons below the intended 2014 target of 18.15 billion gallons.
"The EPA is proposing a major step that reverses the momentum on biofuels," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the letter's signatories. "The progress made toward energy diversity and independence will slip away if the EPA succeeds."
Fellow Iowa Senator and signatory Tom Harkin agreed. "The intent of the RFS is to steadily increase contributions from biofuels in our transportation fuels markets to enhance our nation's energy security, protect the environment, and create jobs," he noted in a statement. "The proposed rule, requiring less biofuel in 2014 than in 2013, goes against this intent and is a significant step backward," he said.
In effort to talk the EPA down from its proposed cuts, Grassley called on a key supporter of renewables – President Obama – for help.
"The sentiment from almost one-third of the U.S. Senate is the proposal needs revision. We want the EPA to reconsider," Grassley said. "The President as a supporter of biofuels should weigh in as needed."
According to Gannett reporter Christopher Doering, Grassley suggested on Wednesday that if the President does not intervene, the lower requirements will likely move forward.
""The White House is going to have to step in, the president personally. I think this is what it is going to take in the final analysis," Grassley said. "If he doesn't step in, this is a big win for Big Oil, and I can't see the president wanting (this), since he's been on Big Oil, wanting to tax them more (and) not drill on public land. I would think that he would not want to give Big Oil a big victory, but that's what he's going to do."
Opposition from corn growers
The National Corn Growers Association has also been pushing the issue among its members, asking them to submit comments on the policy via the Federal Register before time runs out on Jan. 28.
Part of its effort to drum up awareness, the group participated in a day-long rally held in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday. Featuring fervent ethanol supporter and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the event explored effects of an RFS cut during a series of testimonies from farmers, legislators and regulators.
NCGA chairwoman Pam Johnson argued against the changes, noting that decisions about next year's crop have already been made.
"In the past, the RFS had provided some certainty that there will be a viable commodity market-but EPA's proposed rule eliminates this certainty," she explained. "We ask that the EPA stay the course and support the RFS and reconsider the proposed reductions of the 2014 renewable volume obligations."
The rally and testimonies complement what the Nebraska Corn Board called its "greatest grassroots response in the history of the state's corn checkoff" – more than 5,000 letters from Nebraska farmers and ethanol industry opposing an RFS reduction.
"The 5,000 letters from Nebraska, which will be sent to EPA Friday, will have a big impact on EPA," said Tim Scheer, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. To date, Scheer said that more than 4,000 letters are being sent in from Minnesota Corn and over 1,000 letters will be sent from Missouri Corn.
While opposition to the volume reduction has hit a fever pitch, supporters of the reduction are still sending in comments just as fast. According to Radio Iowa's Dar Danielson, robo-calls from the American Petroleum Institute were hitting telephones in concert with the pro-ethanol rally Thursday, urging consumers to support the EPA in its proposal.
Danielson reports a portion of the call:
"'Special Interests groups are pushing the EPA to increase the amount of ethanol in our gasoline. The results could be higher food prices and damaged car engines. We need the EPA to stand up for American families and resist these extremists. Let us send a letter to the EPA on your behalf. Tell the EPA they did the right thing for American consumers."'
As of Thursday, more than 1800 public comments on the changes had been submitted.