Ethanol, oil groups blitz White House as biofuel rule nears
Biofuel and oil industry lobbyists have raced to the White House over the past two weeks in a last-ditch effort to sway controversial ethanol blending rules for next year, fueling talk of that a decision may be just a few weeks away.
The White House has hosted at least 17 meetings related to the rules since October 21, after the federal government reopened for business following a shutdown. Some 84 industry executives and lobbyists have visited, with about 70 percent of the attendees representing biofuel interests, a Reuters review of meeting records shows.
Participants in the meetings say Obama administration officials who are vetting the proposed renewable fuel rules have given no indication of which way they are leaning. But privately, some observers privy to the proceedings say the White House will likely support a leaked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that would dramatically lower ethanol blending volumes
Both sides of the fiercely contested issue are hoping the agency will heed their warnings before making a final decision. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must vet the proposed rules and confer with other agencies before returning them to the EPA, so they could yet be changed during that process. The EPA must then release the draft rules publicly before finalizing them.
Although that date is likely months away, the leak of the EPA's draft proposal has complicated the matter, in effect giving an early, unexpected start for public comments.
The EPA document proposed backtracking on the so-called Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, by cutting the 2014 quota of corn-based ethanol fuel used in gasoline to 13 billion gallons, versus the 14.4 billion called for in the 2007 RFS law. The move set off a storm of criticism from biofuel backers.
"We said . . . 'it would be a capitulation to the oil industry' if the corn ethanol figure is lowered," said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, who discussed the rules with the White House OMB last Friday.
Johnson said OMB officials gave nothing away. "They didn't say anything. They didn't even confirm that stuff that is being reported even is being considered," he said.
Yet some Washington insiders say the EPA's proposal seems likely to stand. In setting quotas for 2013, the agency had already hinted that refiners and blenders were reaching a limit in how much ethanol they can mix into the gasoline pool.
"It's pretty clear the stars are aligning for the EPA to make a major revision in how it implements the RFS," said Bob McNally, White House energy adviser to former President George W. Bush, who championed the 2007 law.