Lobbyists swarm D.C. as EPA mulls cutting biofuels mandate
Industries with millions of dollars at stake over the U.S. government's plan to lower the amount of biofuel that must be used in 2014 will air their grievances on Thursday in one of the most divisive policy debates of the year.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been flooded with interest from stakeholders ahead of what could be a raucous meeting about the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.
The meeting comes nearly three weeks after the Obama administration proposed slashing how much renewable fuel - mostly corn-based ethanol - needs to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply, bowing to pressure from the petroleum industry.
The move was a historic reversal that followed intense lobbying by the petroleum industry and a coalition of groups ranging from chain restaurants to lawn-mower manufacturers.
Some 144 industry representatives are scheduled to testify on Thursday in a marathon hearing that will feature at least 24 separate panels and last for 12 hours at a suburban Washington, D.C., hotel.
Among those assigned to speak will be representatives from the biofuels industry, anti-hunger groups, bakers, petroleum refiners, small-engine manufacturers, lawmakers and the governor of Iowa, the largest U.S. corn-producing state.
"I've never seen one like this. It just shows you how strongly folks feel," said Kris Kiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which represents manufacturers of chainsaws and other power equipment.
Thursday's sprawling event shows the intense interest in the future of biofuels - and caps a year of fierce lobbying that has raged in Washington between pro- and anti-ethanol interests. An unprecedented leak of the EPA's controversial proposal weeks ahead of its official release further inflamed the debate.
The 2007 law mandated a total of 18.15 billion gallons of renewable fuel blending next year. The EPA's proposal requires just 15.21 billion gallons.
The EPA has warned that the country is approaching a point where the RFS would require the use of more ethanol than can be blended into gasoline at the 10 percent level that dominates the U.S. fueling infrastructure.
Refiners have said this so-called "blend wall," if left in place, would force them to export more fuel or produce less gasoline, leading to shortages and higher prices at the pump.
The use of a higher, 15 percent ethanol blend, known as E-15, is a big part of the debate. The EPA has declared E-15 safe for cars, SUVs and light trucks built from 2001 forward, now the majority of the U.S. fleet. But refiners say the blend risks damage to car engines, as well as chainsaws, boats and other equipment.