WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 – Lawmakers are likely to have little appetite for rolling back the usage mandates for corn ethanol despite the renewed attempts by the industry’s critics.

The new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, has long expressed skepticism about biofuels. In 2013, he called the Renewable Fuel Standard “a ticking time bomb that will inevitably result in a crisis.” But the RFS isn’t one of his top priorities now. “Right now that’s not going to reach a level of prominence,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a brief interview with Agri-Pulse. For more on Inhofe’s agenda, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com

Inhofe said he was open to holding hearings on the issue as he tries to get a consensus of committee members on what the panel’s agenda should be.

He pointedly noted that some of the Senate’s newest members – he mentioned Iowa Republican Joni Ernst by name – are pro-ethanol. Other GOP freshmen include Ben Sasse of Nebraska and a member of Inhofe’s committee, Mike Rounds of South Dakota. He joins pro-ethanol Deb Fischer, R-Neb., on the committee.

“That’s an issue that isn’t a partisan issue. That’s an issue that is geographic,’ Inhofe said, referring to the RFS.

Even if there were broad GOP support for taking on the issue, with a corn-producing state such as Iowa likely at play in the 2016 presidential campaign, congressional Republicans are unlikely to want to create problems there for the Republican nominee.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in January proposed an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill to eliminate the corn ethanol mandate but dropped the proposal without getting a floor vote.

Several House members, led by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced a bill (HR 704) last week to do the same thing. The measure, which has 35 cosponsors, including two members from California’s Central Valley, Democrat Jim Costa and Republican David Valadao, is under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill also would cap the amount of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline at 10 percent.

As for the bill’s prospects, Goodlatte asserted that there was growing public concern about ethanol, and he said that sponsors were talking to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., “about the importance of this issue.” The committee’s oversight plan says only that the panel will “continue to review EPA’s implementation” of the RFS.

Congress is likely to leave the RFS issue in the EPA’s hands. But the bill could serve to show EPA that there is some congressional support for continuing to hold the corn ethanol standard near the 10-percent blend wall, which is the policy EPA has been pursuing.

EPA has yet to finalize the 2014 RFS, which is more than a year overdue. Agency officials say they’ve been struggling with their legal authority for lowering the mandate for corn ethanol to keep it in line with the market limitations. The officials say they plan to issue the 2015 and 2016 targets this year as well. 


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