Provisions in a House subcommittee draft bill addressing high-octane fuel and restructuring the Renewable Fuel Standard drew criticism, and some praise, from industry stakeholders Tuesday.

The occasion was a House Energy Subcommittee on Environment hearing on the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act Discussion Draft introduced by the panel's chairman, John Shimkus, R-Ill., and Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas.

“Rather than looking at individual federal transportation fuel policies on their own, the act takes a wider view of those policies and how they may work together to bring more value to consumers and more certainty to stakeholders,” Shimkus said in his opening statement.

The draft would transition from blend-specific mandates to performance-based standards for future fuels and vehicles. "It would remove long-standing barriers to the availability and usability of higher ethanol blends, provide an additional decade of certainty for advanced biofuels, and harmonize Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation vehicle efficiency programs," Shimkus stated.

Kurt Kovarik, vice president of federal affairs with the National Biodiesel Board, said the bill does address some concerns the group has with the Renewable Fuel program, but, "unfortunately for the biomass-based diesel industry, it’s backward looking and doesn’t provide any opportunity for growth.” 

Interviewed after the hearing, Kovarik said the biodiesel industry continues to over-produce what the EPA mandates. “What we are looking for is more alignment with production and opportunity for additional growth.”

Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said his organization can’t support the draft in its current form because it doesn’t do enough to fix the RFS.

“We do recognize that it gets some issues right, misses the mark on others, and includes areas we are simply unable to support as they fail to promote free market competition for fuels. We look forward to engaging all stakeholders in further discussions on this policy.”

The National Corn Growers Association said the draft proposal would not maintain the market access renewable fuels currently have with the RFS or offer enough opportunity to expand the use of ethanol as an octane source.

“We do support the RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) parity, (and) more regulatory certainty with higher blends; we support high octane fuel tester. However, the net impact of all the provisions is our most important consideration,” NCGA Past President Wesley Spurlock said.

A high octane fuel provision would require manufacturers to design gas-powered motor vehicles to maintain a research octane number or (Research Octane Number) of 95 or higher in model years 2023 and beyond. The current octane rating used in unleaded gasoline typically has an octane rating of 87 (regular), 88-90 (mid-grade), and 91-94 (premium), according to 

“We believe the proposed increase to 95 Research Octane Number as the new U.S. standard for regular gasoline for model year 2023 and beyond will be a win for consumers, the automotive industry, fuel producers, agriculture, retailers and society,” said Steve Zimmer, executive director of the United States Council for Automotive Research.

The bill also suggests restructuring the RFS by directing the EPA administrator to grant a waiver with respect to fuels containing an ethanol concentration that is between 15 and 20 percent. It also looks at fueling infrastructure and vehicle fuel efficiency. Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the group also could not support the bill as currently drafted, citing future market uncertainty. He specifically noted a provision that would eliminate the Renewable Fuel requirements for conventional biofuels by 2022.

By eliminating these requirements, and "adopting a no-growth methodology for advanced and cellulosic biofuel requirements through 2032, the draft bill would undermine the considerable progress our nation has made toward greater energy security, economic vitality, and environmental health,” Cooper said.

Other panelists included representatives from the National Association of Convenience Stores and Society of Gasoline Marketers, Advanced Biofuels Association, National Association of Truck Stop Owners, the Coalition for Renewable Gas, and the Advanced Biofuels Business Council.

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