The Hill: A fix for the well-intended ethanol flop
By Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.)
It is not often you find a Democrat from the Green Mountain State and a Republican from the Lone Star State in Washington agreeing on energy issues, but when it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) we have found common ground in the fight to reform the ethanol mandate—a well-intentioned policy that has turned out to be an overwhelming flop for consumers, businesses and the environment. In response, we have jointly developed a bipartisan, common sense, market-based solution to address this issue.
When first enacted by Congress more than a decade ago, and subsequently expanded in 2007, the RFS seemed to offer an array of benefits. By encouraging development of corn ethanol and other advanced biofuels, the RFS appeared to provide a way to diversify our nation’s fuel supply, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions and support rural communities. Projections showing an increase in gasoline demand also seemed to promise an expanding marketplace for these biofuels. But, the potential was not realized.
Instead of achieving its laudable goals, the RFS has proven to be more of a detriment than benefit to consumers. Market conditions have dramatically changed since 2007 and gasoline demand has reached a plateau. This decline in projected gasoline demand is largely due to fuel efficient cars, and other technologies, such as electric vehicles. When a more modest gasoline market is coupled with a mandate to blend more ethanol into our fuel even though infrastructure and consumer demand do not exist to support such levels, consumers and businesses are adversely affected. This detriment highlights the urgent need for Congress to fix the RFS.
While Vermont and Texas may be thousands of miles apart, our constituencies have a common bond in how they are adversely impacted by this policy. Dairy farmers in both Vermont and Texas have suffered from record-high feed prices to feed their herds as they compete with the ethanol mandate. At restaurants and grocery stores, families are being hit by sticker shock as the price of food continues to rise. In states around the country, motorcycle owners, boaters and people mowing their lawns continue to raise concerns about the damage the RFS is inflicting on their equipment, while the RFS’s ever-expanding mandate continues to push consumers beyond the point at which ethanol can be safely blended into gasoline, known as the blend wall.
Meanwhile, ethanol-driven production of corn is having serious, negative environmental consequences in farming communities all around the country. This manufactured demand for corn has led to millions of acres of delicate wetlands and grasslands being brought into production, a process that is damaging ecosystems and hurting biodiversity. The National Academy of Sciences has noted that the production and use of ethanol lowers air and water quality. Also, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis, the lifecycle emissions of corn ethanol in 2012 were higher than those of gasoline, with no end in sight as we exceed the blend wall. While some will have you believe the food and feed price increases are the result of other circumstances, the fact is that nearly 40 percent of our corn crop is being used for ethanol. At the end of the day, the RFS is government policy that is incentivizing farmers to grow corn for fuel instead of food for American’s tables.
This perverse government incentive is why we, along with Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), introduced The Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 5180) to make needed changes to the RFS. By capping the maximum mandated volume of ethanol blended into our transportation fuel at 9.7 percent, the bill protects our engines and infrastructure while limiting the damage this policy is having on consumers and the environment. This bill requires EPA to meet its statutory deadline for setting annual RFS volumes in turn providing needed certainty to the market while balancing environmental impact with stability for consumer.
We hear it in Vermont, Texas and everywhere in between. The message is crystal clear: the ethanol mandate is flawed and producing costly unintended consequences. As the House begins to review the RFS, we urge our colleagues to cap the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline and move forward with this common-sense bipartisan legislation.
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