Bustos introduces bill to create high-octane fuel standard

By Erin Voegele | August 26, 2021

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., on Aug. 24 introduced the Next Generation Fuels Act of 2021, a bill that, in part, aims to establish a high-octane, low-carbon fuel standard. Bustos introduced similar legislation in September 2020.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association and several other ag groups have spoken out in support of the bill, stressing that the innovative legislation can help reduce vehicle emissions while increasing demand for biofuels. The American Coalition for Ethanol, however, is calling on Bustos to make changes to the legislation that would better reward efforts made by ethanol producers and farmers to lower the carbon intensity (CI) of the fuels they produce.

The bill, H.R. 5089, includes many provisions of benefit to higher blends of ethanol, including those that address regulatory impediments that have slowed the commercialization of high-octane, low-carbon fuels and the vehicles that consume them. For example, the bill includes provisions that would set a limit on aromatics in gasoline another, ensure that all ethanol blends receive the same Reid vapor pressure (RVP) treatment as E10, and require future vehicles and future retail stations are compatible with higher blends of ethanol.  

The legislation aims to establish certification test fuels of 95 research octane number (RON) and 98 RON containing 20-30 percent ethanol. It would also require automobile manufacturers to design and warrant their vehicles for the use of these fuels beginning with model year (MY) 2026.

Under the legislation, the octane used in the fuel must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a minimum of 40 percent when compared to a 2021 baseline. U.S. Department of Energy’s GREET model would be used to determine lifecycle emissions of the fuels.

ACE has applauded many provisions of the bill but is urging Bustos to alter the way the legislation handles the required 40 percent reduction in GHG emissions. ACE explained that the high-octane, low-carbon standard requires high-octane fuel to be produced from sources with average lifecycle GHG emissions of 40 percent when measured against the baseline. This is problematic, said ACE, because every ethanol facility has its own unique carbon intensity (CI) and the use of an “average” would shortchange many ethanol producers.

“While this legislation checks much off the ethanol industry wish list, like the previous version, its inadequate approach to carbon accounting would undermine many ACE-member plants and other U.S. dry mill producers who have made investments to reduce the carbon intensity of their ethanol,” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE. “The Biden administration and most Members of Congress are focused on how to reach net-zero emissions in the transportation sector by mid-century. Since ethanol is the only transportation fuel that can achieve both net-zero and net-negative emissions, we should push for technology-neutral policy that holds all fuel producers accountable for their individual carbon footprints. This will ensure a growing market for low carbon ethanol in the future despite the hysteria surrounding electric vehicles.”

“Under this legislation, ethanol from a coal-fired ADM facility, whose fuel is nearly as carbon-intensive as gasoline, would get the same access to the market as the most efficient farmer-owned ethanol facility, whose carbon footprint is at least 50 percent cleaner than gasoline, and in most cases 60 to 70 percent cleaner,” Jennings continued. “In other words, the bill as currently drafted would perversely reward ADM for doing nothing to reduce the CI of the fuel produced in its coal-fired facilities and penalize companies like Poet, KAAPA, Little Sioux Corn Processors, Ringneck Energy and dozens like them that have invested in technology innovations to reduce the CI of their fuel.”

“While I share the frustration of people in the corn and ethanol sectors that some in Congress and the Biden administration seem to dismiss the role ethanol can play in reducing GHG emissions, maybe it’s partly because we are unwilling to take responsibility for our carbon footprint and instead choose to celebrate this legislation as a serious decarbonization effort when it is not,” Jennings added. “We cannot pay lip service to net-zero emissions by 2050 and simultaneously expect Congress to give us year-round access for E15 or require E30 compatibility from automakers.”

“If this legislation were improved to allow individual CI scores for ethanol producers and give credit to farmers for practices that reduce emissions from fertilizer use and sequester carbon in the soil, not only would ACE enthusiastically support it, but it would be taken more seriously in Congress,” Jennings said.

Other biofuel and ag groups, however, do not share ACE’s concerns. RFA, Growth Energy, NCGA, National Farmers Union, Illinois Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Growers Association are among the biofuel and ag groups that have spoken out in support of the Next Generation Fuels Act of 2021.

“We commend Congresswoman Bustos and the co-sponsors of the Next Generation Fuels Act for laying out an innovative roadmap to more efficient, more affordable, lower-carbon fuels,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “Waiting and hoping for massive growth in battery electric vehicle sales and a greener electricity grid is not the way to address today’s energy security, air quality, and climate concerns. We need real solutions right here, right now. This legislation would ensure cleaner, greener liquid fuels are available in the near term to reduce carbon emissions, improve fuel efficiency and protect human health.”

“The Next Generation Fuels Act represents a clear roadmap for turbo-charging our progress against climate change while offering drivers cleaner, more affordable options at the pump,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “With a natural octane of 113, ethanol is the only high-performance, homegrown, renewable fuel ready to immediately loosen the hold that OPEC and its allies in Russia have over U.S. fuel prices, while slashing the use of toxic fuel additives that poison our air. We applaud Reps. Bustos and Comer for working to promote the use of high-octane, low carbon higher biofuel blends that hold enormous potential for rural America’s role in clean energy production.  
“This important legislation also directly addresses a recent court decision that threatens to stall the growth of higher biofuel blends like E15, a fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol,” Skor added. “Now more than ever, it’s vital that Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration move quickly to restore certainty for the rural producers and farmers working to deliver clean, affordable, renewable energy to American drivers.”

“Congresswoman Bustos has been a real champion for the benefits of low carbon ethanol and for agriculture,” said John Linder, president of the NCGA. “NCGA is thankful for the Congresswoman’s leadership in advancing renewable fuels by reintroducing this legislation. Corn growers look forward to working with her to build support for clean energy policies that take greater advantage of ethanol’s benefits.”

“National Farmers Union thanks Representative Bustos for reintroducing the Next Generation Fuels Act,” said Rob Larew, president of the NFU. “Low-carbon, high octane ethanol blends reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also criteria pollutants and air toxics like benzene, toluene, and xylene. We urge Congress to act on this important legislation and facilitate more extensive use of mid- and high-level ethanol blends.”

“Today, corn farmers in Illinois celebrate the introduction of the Next Generation Fuels Act. The high-octane fuel standard this bill will establish allows corn-based ethanol to contribute to a new clean fuel economy,” said ICGA President Randy DeSutter, a farmer from Woodhull. “One of the biggest concerns in rural Illinois is that our current energy policy chooses which renewable energies will win and which will lose. A policy like the Next Generation Fuels Act levels the playing field and allows fuels that can meet the standard to compete. The Next Generation Fuels Act provides clean energy and energy efficiency, while benefiting rural economies and Americans wanting cost-effective vehicles and fuels. This policy benefits all.

“This policy is even a win for automakers,” he added. “They would now certify their new vehicles to meet emissions and fuel economy standards using this new fuel. The high-octane fuel makes it easier for them to meet their goals because these engines will get more miles per gallon.  That increased fuel efficiency reduces emissions. Using low carbon corn-based ethanol to build the new fuel decreases greenhouse gas emissions and improves air quality to benefit human health.

“I am so pleased to be represented by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, an elected official who understands that corn farmers and rural America can make a big difference in the nation’s pursuit of cleaner energy,” DeSutter continued.

“We are appreciative of Rep. Bustos and all of the co-sponsors of this bill,” said Richard Preston, president of the KCGA. “As Kentuckians, we are particularly proud of Rep. Comer for his vision and leadership on this bill. Thanks to these members of Congress, we will bolster rural communities in Kentucky and across the country, while contributing to greenhouse gas emissions reductions in transportation.”

“The Missouri Corn Growers Association is extremely pleased to have bipartisan support from Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Jason Smith on this important issue,” said MCGA President Jay Fischer, a corn farmer from central Missouri. “We appreciate their efforts and Rep. Bustos for bringing this monumental ethanol legislation to fruition. MCGA looks forward to continuing to work with Missouri’s entire congressional delegation to help move this bill across the finish line and create new market opportunities for homegrown fuel.”

Following its introduction, the Next Generation Fuels Act of 2021 was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means. To date, Reps. Emanual Cleaver, D-Mo.; Jason Smith, R-Mo.; James Comer, R-Ky.; Darin LaHood, R-Ill.; and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, have signed on to cosponsor the legislation.