US senators offer bill to end corn ethanol mandate

US senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have introduced a bill that would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate within the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires annual increases in the amount of renewable fuel blended into gasoline refined and consumed in the US.

“Under the corn ethanol mandate in the RFS, roughly 44% of US corn is diverted from food to fuel, pushing up the cost of food and animal feed and damaging the environment,” Feinstein said. “Oil companies are also unable to blend more corn ethanol into gasoline without causing problems for automobiles, boats, and other vehicles. I strongly support requiring a shift to low-carbon advanced biofuel, including biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, and other revolutionary fuels. But a corn ethanol mandate is simply bad policy.”

Coburn said, “This misguided policy has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, increased fuel prices, and made our food more expensive. Eliminating this mandate will let market forces, rather than political and parochial forces, determine how to diversify fuel supplies in an ever-changing marketplace.”

Co-sponsors of the bill are senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker, (R-Tennessee), Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), James E. Risch (R-Idaho), and Patrick Toomey (R-Pennsylvania).

Their action came a day after two federal officials told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that future US alternative transportation fuels research, development, and deployment will concentrate on advance biofuels more compatible with existing distribution systems and engines than ethanol refined from corn.

At that hearing, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland), a senior member of the committee, called for balanced reforms in the RFS that address concerns that have emerged since the RFS was expanded under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

“The last changes to the RFS seven years ago were based on critical economic assumptions, like rising gasoline consumption, sufficient availability of corn for fuel and food production, and industry’s ability to rapidly develop truly advanced biofuels that turned out to be false,” Cardin said. “The status quo is unsustainable, yet full repeal of the RFS would set back years of progress and the promise of a clean energy future and destroy thousands of sustainable jobs in a technology sector that has tremendous promise for our nation.”

Cardin added that he has been working on reforms with several other senators from both sides of the aisle for several months.

The American Petroleum Institute immediately applauded the bill promoted by Feinstein and Coburn. “Repealing corn ethanol mandates is the first step toward protecting consumers from outdated and costly public policy,” said API Downstream Director Bob Greco. “The EPA’s proposal to lower the 2014 mandates could provide a stopgap, but Congress needs to deliver a long-term solution to provide certainly for consumers. Requirements set back in 2007 could soon push ethanol levels in gasoline above what is safe for most cars on the road today.”

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