WASHINGTON, June 14, 2017 – A hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee left backers of a bill that would expand sale of higher ethanol blends encouraged, but the legislation has an uncertain future.

The hearing examined the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (S.517), which would alter the Clean Air Act to allow for the sale of blends of ethanol like E15 to be sold in the summer. Currently, Reid vapor pressure restrictions are only waived for E10, a 10 percent blend that accounts for most of the fuel sold in the U.S.

While the hearing did examine the legislation, it wasn’t a formal markup of the bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is one of the bill’s 17 co-sponsors, told reporters yesterday that he hoped to see a markup next week, but Committee Chairman John Barrasso told Agri-Pulse that isn’t going to happen.

“It’s not going to be next week,” the Wyoming Republican said. Asked whether the committee would pursue a markup, he said that a markup of the bill “has been promised” to Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb, the bill’s sponsor, but did not mention a timeline.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Delaware Democrat Tom Carper, the committee’s ranking member, said he sensed a “willingness to hold a hearing, not an eagerness to move toward a markup.”

Biofuel industry sources tell Agri-Pulse  the current estimate is for a markup sometime before the August recess. But when the bill eventually does move, it may have to overcome opposition from committee leadership.

Barrasso said at the beginning of today’s hearing that he doesn’t support the bill, but said it deserved “a full and fair hearing before this committee.” Additionally, Carper told reporters after the hearing that if his concerns about how the legislation would impact the volatility of the Renewable Identification Number (RIN) market aren’t addressed, then he “could not support the bill as it is.”

A bipartisan contingent of senators, however, threw their weight behind the bill. Besides Fisher, Republicans Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois all spoke favorably of the legislation.

Mike Lorenz is an executive vice president with Sheetz, a retailer that sells E15. He said that after millions of transactions from thousands of customers, “we have not had a single customer complaint or any cases of misfueling.” Todd Teske, the chairman, president, and CEO of Briggs & Stratton, reiterated his concern over misfueling, however, by pointing to damaging impacts that could come about if small engines used fuel blended with more than 10 percent ethanol.

Ethanol skeptics on the committee like Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe also spoke against the bill, saying it would be another victory for corn ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard. But Brooke Coleman, the executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, said advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol could also benefit from the legislation. He pointed to difficulties some cellulosic projects face in securing funding because of an uncertain demand picture, and he said the bill could shore up confidence among investors.

“This will fundamentally change that conversation,” Coleman said at the hearing. “Basically, you’ll have an ethanol industry that gets to the next level from an innovation standpoint.”

After the hearing, Coleman pointed out that opponents of  the legislation will seek to pit cellulosic and other advanced biofuels against conventional corn ethanol, but he said the industry can’t let that happen. He said the same groups of lawmakers that helped pass the RFS in the first place can also play a role in backing S.517 and companion legislation in the House.

“The coalition that built the RFS was a broad, bipartisan, middle of the country, coastal America coalition, and there’s no reason to break that down.”


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