Inhofe challenges corn ethanol, RFS

By Kris Bevill | July 15, 2010
Posted Aug. 9, 2010

Ethanol industry supporters familiar with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., experienced a moment of déjà vu Aug. 5 when he introduced an amendment that would allow states to opt out of the corn ethanol portion of the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Inhofe introduced the same amendment in 2005 and wasn't able to garner enough support to pass the bill. Ethanol industry representatives predict a similar outcome this session as well.

Matt Hartwig, communications director for the Renewable Fuels Association, said S. 3736 is a "gratuitous effort" by Inhofe to limit ethanol's share of the marketplace. Hartwig predicts Inhofe's amendment will fail, as it did in 2005. "All the senator's efforts would do is raise the price of gasoline and force America to use more imported oil," he said. "While that is in the best interests of the oil industry in Oklahoma, it would only harm the American consumer."

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said allowing states to opt out of the RFS will only increase domestic dependence on foreign oil. "It would also limit the consumption of the only commercially viable alternative we have to oil today - an alternative that has been proven to clean our air, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, revitalize our rural economics and create jobs in the U.S.," he added.

In a floor statement to introduce his amendment, Inhofe argued exactly the opposite, claiming that ethanol contributes to the degradation of catalyst efficiency in vehicles, increasing nitrogen oxide emissions and therefore possibly reducing air quality. He also said consumers complain about decreased fuel efficiency resulting from ethanol and Oklahoma retailers, who reportedly lost business when they first began to sell E10, are being forced to continue selling E10, eliminating consumer choice. "The fuel blenders and gas station owners have no option but to sell ethanol-blended gasoline despite strong consumer demand for clear gas," Inhofe said in his floor statement. "I believe Congress blundered in pushing too much corn ethanol too fast. This bill will merely allow for fuel producers to respond to market demands when and where consumers prefer clear gas. Right now they can't do that."

Inhofe said his amendment wouldn't affect other portions of the RFS such as the cellulosic or advanced biofuel mandates and is focused solely on corn ethanol. However, the RFS passed in 2007 doesn't define conventional biofuel as being only corn ethanol, which brings to question the effectiveness of Inhofe's proposal. According to the RFS definition, conventional biofuel is ethanol derived from corn starch that achieves a 20 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction compared to baseline lifecycle GHG emissions. Additionally, the timing of Inhofe's proposal - one day before a month-long Congressional break - speaks volumes to ethanol representatives, who said his amendment is merely a talking point to use during break-time campaigning in Oklahoma.