Ethanol has accomplished the impossible, bringing together oil refiners, hunger activists, dairy farmers and environmentalists. There’s just one problem for the corn-based fuel: They all hate it.
Together that motley crew of lobbyists is pushing Congress to rework legislation from 2007 mandating the use of ethanol in gasoline, with refiners also complaining about rules from the Environmental Protection Agency implementing that law. This week, corn growers and ethanol makers are fighting back.
More than 40 members of the American Coalition for Ethanol are participating in their fifth annual “DC Fly-In,” at which they will hear updates about the renewable-fuels program, and then roam the halls of Congress defending the fuel to lawmakers and congressional staff members. The group includes representatives from ethanol companies such as Ace Ethanol LLC. The two-day event begins tomorrow.
Those attacks on the biofuels mandate “surprised a lot of people in the industry,” Chuck Beck, the group’s spokesman, said in an interview. “We’re trying to counter some of the things we are hearing.”
Under the federal law, refiners such as Exxon Mobil Corp. must use a certain amount of renewable fuels each year, or buy credits for that production. The cost of those credits has jumped in recent weeks on fears that there won’t be enough ethanol to meet the federal mandate this year.
Hunger groups say it raises the cost of corn — with about 40 percent of the country’s biggest crop going for fuel — and thus the cost of food. Dairy, chicken and cattle producers say it increases feed prices.
Refiners say that ever-increasing mandates for ethanol’s use paired with flat overall fuel demand means that they will need to increase the blend of ethanol in gasoline past 10 percent, a standard deemed safe for all vehicles. And some environmentalists say that the expansion of corn planting is leading to devastation of important wetlands and grasslands.
“Why is Congress continuing to force consumers to use a fuel that increases food and gas prices and is bad for the environment and public health?” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, said in a web posting on Feb. 4.
The EPA and renewable-fuel producers say the mandate, established by Congress in 2007, both spurs production of domestic fuels and cuts greenhouse-gas emissions by reducing use of gasoline or diesel. In addition, ethanol makers are defending the decision by the EPA to allow gasoline to be blended with 15 percent ethanol in some cases.
And as part of their aggressive stance, the ethanol makers aren’t holding their fire against their most powerful critics. They plan to release a report about what they call the “century of subsidies” received by the oil industry.
“This year we’re a little more aggressive,” Beck said.