Sunday, July 21, 2013

White House steps up biofuel support amid escalating attacks

By Zack Colman

Photo: Bio News Texas
The White House on Thursday doubled down on its support of a biofuel-blending rule that’s drawing intense attacks from the oil industry and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Heather Zichal, President Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, said the renewable fuel standard is the “backbone of our policy” for reducing oil imports, and added it would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Calls to repeal the renewable fuel standard are nothing but short-sighted,” Zichal said at a Thursday event hosted by The Hill and the Advanced Biofuels Association.

Zichal said the Obama administration would remain committed to the standard in the face of the “RFS battles that we know are ahead of us.”

That fight is already underway.

Both the House and the Senate have held hearings this week and last that touched on the mandate, which requires refiners to combine 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel into conventional petroleum by 2022.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will also hold a hearing on the blending rule next week. The panel’s top two members, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), have produced a series of white papers on the rule.

Measures to repeal the standard have been filed in both chambers. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade association, supports those bills.

The oil industry says refiners are being forced to buy credits for next generation biofuels that haven’t yet reach commercial scale to meet the mandate’s targets. It also says refiners are approaching a “blend wall” in which they’ll need to blend higher concentrations of ethanol fuel to meet the rule’s accelerating marks.

Some environmental groups also have challenged the standard, though they're looking for changes rather than eliminating the rule.

They have questioned the environmental benefits of the standard, as they say it promotes corn ethanol production that relies on the clearing of wetlands and trees to create space for corn feedstock.
Some lawmakers have signaled tweaks are possible. A full repeal is unlikely though, as the biofuels industry has a committed base of Midwest lawmakers backing the renewable fuel standard. 

The rule’s supporters contend it has been an economic boon for rural communities. They say maintaining it is important for driving investment into next-generation varieties the industry says are starting to come online. 
Zichal spoke to the economic aspect on Thursday, calling the renewable fuel standard an “opportunity to develop a new competitive industry.”

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