Biofuel industry criticizes Toomey, Feinstein RFS bill

By Erin Voegele | February 26, 2015

On Feb. 26, Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015. The bill, which is cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., aims to alter the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Earlier this year, Toomey and Feinstein attempted to introduce the same measure as an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill. However, it was not brought to a vote.

Fuels America hosted a media call on the introduction of the act. Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, opened the call by calling the legislation “a misguided solution in search of a problem.” He criticized Toomey for saying ethanol drives up gas and food prices, stressing he couldn’t be more wrong. He also criticized Feinstein for her argument that corn ethanol is getting in the way of advanced biofuels.

Dinneen also called the whole notion behind the bill wrong, stressing that there is no corn ethanol mandate. “There is a specific requirement for advanced biofuels, a specific requirement for biodiesel, and a specific requirement for cellulose,” he said. “There is no specific requirement for corn ethanol, so the entire foundation of the legislation is wrong.”

In addition, Dinneen stressed that the RFS is working. It is reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation fuels, while increasing employment and creating tax revenue. “There is no benefit to this wrong legislation,” he said.

Keith Alverson, a board member of the National Corn Growers Association, called the legislation disappointing. “The idea that we are driving food prices up is simply false,” he said, noting that corn prices continued to fall last year despite the fact that U.S. corn ethanol production reached a new all-time high. He also spoke about the value of distillers grain coproducts and efficiency gains achieved by American famers. While ethanol production is getting cleaner and more efficient, oil production is getting dirtier, he said.

Jeff Lautt, CEO of Poet LLC, spoke about the synergies between first generation ethanol production and cellulosic development. He noted Poet’s cellulosic joint venture with Royal DSM established its cellulosic ethanol plant adjacent to an existing corn ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The two facilities share a great deal of infrastructure, including roads, utilities and ethanol storage. Lautt also stressed that the same farmers provide feedstock to both plants.

Lautt said his company sees enormous potential for colocated cellulosic production in the future. The U.S. EPA’s proposal last year to gut the RFS, however, has frozen investment in cellulosic capacity, he said, adding this bill would make the situation worse. “It will hurt the very people who are going to expand cellulosic ethanol capacity right here in the U.S.,” he said.

According to Lautt, the U.S. must stop sending signals to investors that our country is not committed to the promise of biofuels. Investors don’t trust policy when these see these kinds of attacks year after year, he said. If policy change stifle the market for cellulosic ethanol in the U.S, he said, Poet would be forced to look abroad for better opportunities to develop cellulosic technology.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Industrial and Environmental Section, called the legislation misguided and overly simplistic, stressing it would lead to a number of unintended consequences. For example, Erickson said the proposal, if successful, could significantly increase GHG emissions, as oil companies could elect to replace the ethanol portion fuel with additional fossil fuels. He also spoke about the potential of the bill to chill investment in advanced technologies. In addition, Erickson drew attention to the improved efficiencies achieved by U.S. corn ethanol producers, noting that 27 of the nation’s 200 corn ethanol plants have achieved new pathway approvals from the EPA, clearly demonstrating they meet the 20 percent lifecycle GHG reduction requirement of the RFS.

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, rounded out the call. He said the single biggest risk advanced biofuel investors face is policy risk. It’s important not to change the rules in the middle of a 15-year policy plan, he said. Although those on the call agreed that the legislation seems to have little chance of becoming law, Coleman stressed that even a proposed bill can scare away investors.

Coleman also spoke about a letter DuPont, BIO, Archer Daniels Midland Co., AEM, NCGA, Abengoa Bioenergy, Novozymes, RFS, Growth Energy and AEC have issued to President Obama. The letter asks Obama to restore the RFS and indicates enacting the 2014 RFS rule as originally proposed by the EPA would put his climate legacy at risk by increasing GHG emissions.

Growth Energy has also weighed in on the legislation. Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, called the bill incredibly shortsighted. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of Senators understand the importance of homegrown American renewable fuels. This amendment would eviscerate the RFS - the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years. It will continue to keep us addicted to foreign oil and more than anything, it seems like this legislation is appeasing the wishes of Big Oil and Big Food,” he said.

Buis added that the legislation is based on false, misleading information and noted that its authors fail to understand the actual process of how ethanol is produced. “If this amendment was adopted, it would embrace the status quo of our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil, concede we no longer are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and seek to pursue a policy that would result in massive upheaval and job loss in today’s booming rural economy,” he said.