Open Fuel Standard bill progresses, but slowly

By Holly Jessen | June 08, 2011

If it has a chance of passing into law, the Open Fuel Standard will need—among other things—more cosponsors. By June 8, only 11 had signed on. According to the bill needs a total of 218 co-sponsors to add up to a simple majority of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Folks should let their representatives know this is a top priority,” says Anne Korin, co-founder of the Set America Free Coalition, which advocates for fuel choice.           

If passed into law, the Open Fuel Standard would require manufacturers to produce 50 percent qualified vehicles beginning in model year 2014, 80 percent by 2016 and 95 percent by 2017. Qualified vehicles would include flex-fuel vehicles warranted to operate on gasoline, E85 or an 85 percent blend of methanol, which can be made from natural gas or coal. Also included would be vehicles that can operate on natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, fuel cell or other technology. The bill, which was introduced May 3 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., will also need a companion bill introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and American Coalition for Ethanol have all spoken out in support of the proposed bill. RFA’s President and CEO Bob Dinneen pointed out that ethanol is the only proven and widely available alternative fuel to gasoline and will remain in that spot for the foreseeable future. Investments in vehicle technologies that can accommodate more ethanol blends and more flex-fuel vehicles are a critical component to ending the U.S.’s addiction to oil. “Putting more Americans behind the wheel of [FFVs] is essential to breaking the near monopoly oil interests have over our nation’s fuel supply,” he said. “Together with blender pumps offering a range of ethanol blends, more FFVs on the road would put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to the nation’s energy future.”

Growth Energy’s President Jim Nussle called the bill a smart policy that would help increase fuel competition and break the hold oil has on the U.S. “If we truly want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create good-paying U.S. jobs and improve our environment, we need to ensure that our entire vehicle fleet is ready to use clean, renewable fuels like ethanol,” he said. “Each additional [FFV] on the road gives consumers a choice in their fuels, while lowering the price at the pump and strengthening our energy security.”

ACE expressed its strong support for the bill “because it provides consumers with meaningful fuel choices,” including ethanol, said Brian Jennings, executive vice president. The legislation would create competition in the fuel marketplace, which is sorely needed, especially considering current high gas prices.

The Methanol Institute is also behind the bill. Methanol is produced primarily from natural gas but can also be produced from renewable feedstocks including agricultural or timber wastes, other biomass, landfill gas or waste CO2. It also reduced harmful emissions from automobiles, the organization said.

Producing cars that can run on either gas, ethanol or methanol would cost about $100 a vehicle, the institute said. At current prices methanol costs $1.04 per gallon wholesale and $3.19 for the consumer, including distribution costs, taxes and accounting for lower energy content than gas. Replacing only 10 percent of U.S. transportation fuel with methanol would save consumers $38 million daily and more than $14 billion yearly. "The Methanol Institute is proud to support this bipartisan legislation," said Gregory Dolan, director of the institute. "At a time of fragile economic recovery, this practical energy solution will provide considerable savings for consumers without the need for our federal government to put forth any investment."

On the other hand, the bill has not earned thumbs up from everyone. Advanced Biofuels USA, a Frederick, Md.-based non-profit organization that promotes public understanding, acceptance and use of advanced biofuels, takes exception with the inclusion of methanol produced from natural gas in the Open Fuel Standard. The group posted an analysis by member Robert Kozak that concludes the bill would actually add to environmental damage because “non-renewable natural gas is included on equal grounds with renewable biofuels.” The analysis says that shale natural gas is very high in greenhouse gas emissions and will comprise 47 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply by 2035. It also says the U.S. natural gas supply is not sufficient to address demand to produce additional methanol along with its existing uses.

Lilly Sherman, who established the Open Fuel Standard website with her husband, Abe Shackleton, repeated that the bill gives consumers more choice and lessens dependence on foreign oil. “The beauty of the Open Fuel Standard Act is that it does not mandate one fuel over another,” she said.

The Open Fuel Standard (H.R. 1687) was introduced by Shimkus. As of June 8 its cosponsors are Reps. Eliot Engel, D-NY, Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Howard Berman, D-Calif., David Loebsack, D-Iowa, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, Dennis Ross, R-Fla., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Henry “Hank” Johnson, D-Ga.