Volunteer, Professional Lobbyists Aim for EPA Turnaround

The ethanol industry has made a compelling case to help the EPA come to its senses. We'll see a final RFS rule for 2014 very soon, and we’ll determine what steps are necessary to preserve it for consumer choice once the agency's decision is final.
By Brian Jennings | February 15, 2014

The American Coalition for Ethanol hosts an annual grassroots fly-in because we recognize the most effective lobbyists aren’t lobbyists at all.  The best lobbyists are ordinary people who passionately care about an issue. That’s why volunteer lobbyists such as farmers, livestock producers, retailers selling E15 and E85, bankers, mayors, and Main Street business owners have signed up to join us in Washington on March 25-26 to show and tell their stories about why ethanol is important and we should keep the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

If we are to get the attention of the administration and Congress that they shouldn’t mess with the RFS, we’re going to need your unique, personal stories of how ethanol has made a positive difference in your life. I hope to see you at the ACE fly-in this year.  

And speaking of lobbyists, please don’t get me wrong. Lobbyists play an important and useful role in shaping public policy. I’m a registered lobbyist and have been for 10 years. Moreover, ACE is represented by a professional D.C. lobbyist named Jonathon Lehman. The first-hand experiences that Jonathon and I have as former congressional staffers provide us unique insight into how to influence public policy.

For example, Lehman has been working on behalf of ACE to turn the U.S. EPA around on its misguided proposal to reduce the RFS in 2014, based upon his first-hand experience as a congressional staffer who worked on the original RFS. As counsel to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, it was his responsibility to craft the RFS and negotiate its language as part of the 2005 Energy Bill.

As part of that effort, he fought the attempts of the oil industry to insert poison pills into the RFS. That poison language—at that time championed by Reps. Tom Delay and Billy Tauzin at the behest of the oil industry, and rejected by Congress in 2005—now sits before us in nearly identical form as the proposal from EPA.

One of those poison pills was language to provide MTBE liability protection to oil companies. (MTBE is the oxygenate methyl tertiary butyl ether.) Congress rejected MTBE liability protection. As a result, MTBE was removed from the fuel stream in a matter of months and investment flowed into the renewable fuels industry on the promise that the RFS would drive real change in the marketplace.

The other provision oil companies were holding out for in 2005 was language in the House version of the Energy Bill that would allow biofuel infrastructure, or lack thereof, to be an excuse for EPA to reduce or waive the RFS. The House bill would have allowed EPA to waive the RFS based on “inadequate domestic supply or distribution capacity to meet the requirement.” The Senate version of the legislation allowed EPA to waive the RFS if it were proven to “cause severe harm to the economy,” or “if there is an inadequate domestic supply.” Nothing in the Senate bill referred to distribution capacity or infrastructure. When the dust settled and the final RFS language was negotiated, the Senate version prevailed and oil companies would not be allowed to use infrastructure (i.e. distribution capacity) as an excuse not to comply with the RFS.  More importantly, EPA would not be able to use infrastructure as an excuse to waive or reduce the RFS.  

Congress explicitly rejected giving EPA the ability to waive the RFS based on infrastructure concerns to ensure the RFS did what Congress wanted it to do—push the highly concentrated oil industry into allowing renewable fuels to fill more than 10 percent of the market. Unfortunately, EPA has turned its back on congressional intent.

But thanks to ACE members and others, who helped provide thousands of comments to EPA, we’ve made a compelling case to try and help EPA come to its senses. We should see a final RFS rule for 2014 very soon, and we’ll determine what steps are necessary to take in preserving the RFS and consumer choice once that final rule is published by EPA.  

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
[email protected]