WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2017 - Talk is picking up on Capitol Hill about possible long-term revisions to the 10-year-old Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the usage of corn ethanol and other biofuels. 

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Greg Walden of Oregon, and the chairman of the environment subcommittee, John Shimkus of Illinois, both say they want to overhaul the RFS in this Congress. 

Any legislation that’s seen as hurting the industry would have a tough time getting through the Senate. But the biggest loser in such legislation could be developers of next-generation biofuels, Many lawmakers don’t think those will ever be economically viable. 

‘Reality setting in,’ lawmaker says. A member of the House subcommittee, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, says it’s in the interest of the biofuel industry to rewrite the RFS now since Congress didn’t set any annual targets for biofuel use after 2022. At that point, EPA will have full authority to set the annual RFS biofuels volume requirements for subsequent years.

“The reality is setting in that 2022 is really coming upon us, and there really is some uncertainty,” Cramer told Agri-Pulse. Cramer conceded, however, that it could be years before Congress can agree on legislation. 

The committee’s goal “in all of this is just to get everybody together and have a robust discussion of all the issues,” said Cramer.

He says it’s possible an RFS reform bill could hitch a ride on infrastructure legislation that President Trump wants Congress to pass. 

The delicate politics of biofuels burst into public view this week when there were reports that the White House had reached a deal with one industry group, the Renewable Fuels Association. The rumored deal, which the White House denied, called for EPA to shift the responsibility for complying with biofuel mandates from refiners to fuel marketers. In return, the EPA would ease restrictions on the sale of higher ethanol blends. 

Fuels America, a coalition of biofuels advocates, later announced that it “severed ties” with RFA over the issue.

Lawmakers stake out positions. Lawmakers on both sides of the issue are rushing to introduce bills. Yesterday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., reintroduced legislation that would set requirements for usage of corn-based ethanol and cap the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 10 percent. 

On the Senate side, a group of Midwest senators introduced legislation that seeks to boost the usage of corn ethanol by extending the Reid vapor pressure waiver to ethanol blends of above 10 percent. The change would allow higher-ethanol blends to be sold year around. That’s the change that was supposed to be part of the rumored White House deal.

Corn growers shift position on NAFTA. Members of the National Corn Growers Association are making some revisions in their trade policy that reflect the new trade environment under President Trump.

NCGA voting delegates, meeting yesterday in San Antonio, agreed to strike language from NCGA’s policy book opposing the reopening of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement. Supporters of the change says it allows the group’s lobbyists to be active in renegotiation talks should they happen. 

Delegates opposed to the measure are worried that renegotiating NAFTA could put grain exports at risk. Mexico is the top foreign market for U.S. corn. 

The delegates bucked the recommendation of NCGA’s resolutions committee on two other trade measures. One resolution would have ended NCGA’s endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump opposes. The other resolution would have ended the group’s support for reauthorizing the president’s fast-track trade negotiating authority. 

CEOs huddle at Classic. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall huddled with presidents and CEOs of major farm organizations during a private discussion on the sidelines of the Commodity Classic yesterday. Duvall said it was a chance for leaders to compare notes and discuss a number of ag-related issues such as trade, regulatory relief and the upcoming farm bill. 

During the CEO meeting, leaders also outlined what they were going to discuss with House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway at a breakfast meeting this morning. Conaway, R-Texas, is the keynote speaker at Commodity Classic today.

Schools seek farm bill help. The School Nutrition Association is calling on Congress to help offset the cost of serving breakfast to school kids. The group’s new 2017 position paper says the next farm bill should require USDA to provide six cents worth of commodities for every breakfast served. That would cost an estimated $140 million a year. 

USDA-purchased commodities currently account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the foods in the National School Lunch Program. Providing USDA foods for breakfast would help schools cope with rising costs and also advance USDA’s mission of supporting America’s farmers, SNA says. 

Zinke riding a horse

The new Interior secretary heads to work. (Interior Department photo)

Zinke mounts up to take charge at Interior. Give Ryan Zinke credit. The new Interior secretary knows how to make an entrance. Wearing boots and blue jeans, Zinke mounted a U.S. Park Police horse to ride from the National Mall to his first day on the job at the Department of Interior. 

Zinke, who’s an avid outdoorsman, was later joined by representatives of sporting groups and wildlife conservation organizations in signing his first two secretarial orders. One order lifts a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on land controlled by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The other order directs agencies to identify areas where recreation and fishing can be expanded. 

“It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite,” Zinke said. 

GOP leader salutes Cochran. Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican who has long been a force for southern agriculture interests, became the 10th longest serving senator in history last week, an achievement that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell paid tribute to yesterday.

“Here in the Senate, we’ve all had the opportunity to work with Sen. Cochran,” McConnell said. “Whether on agricultural issues, responding to national disasters, or negotiating appropriations bills, Sen. Cochran has played a crucial role on many pieces of legislation.”

Cochran, a former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has served in the Senate since 1978.

He said it: “What these new tools will do for farming, is what Amazon has done for shopping” – Monsanto’s Robb Fraley speaking at the Commodity Classic yesterday about how investments in innovation as a result of Bayer’s planned acquisition of Monsanto will revolutionize the agricultural industry. 

Spencer Chase contributed to this report.