Ethanol taking heavy fire in Washington

Published: Monday, June 24 2013 11:05 a.m. MDT

This photo taken June 20, 2013, shows a sign advertising no ethanol gasoline available at a station in Oklahoma City. For the first time ever, the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that consumers use corn-derived ethanol mixed into their gasoline, is under fire in Washington. The policy has long been a subject of derision among economists and scientists.

Sue Ogrocki, AP

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For the first time ever, the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that consumers use corn-derived ethanol mixed into their gasoline, is under fire in Washington.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by several senators to repeal the fuel standard was introduced in the U.S. Senate last week.

“The Renewable Fuel Standard is fundamentally broken and beyond repair,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., according to the Daily Caller. “Instead of delivering meaningful environmental benefits, it’s driven up food and fuel costs for American families. This flawed program will also inevitably lead to widespread lawsuits against American manufacturers. When Congress enacts bad policy, the right response is to scrap it and start over.”

“The Renewable Fuel Standard isn’t working for consumers, refiners or livestock groups,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. “These mandates are unworkable and need to be overhauled. Repealing the RFS will allow us to develop a new policy for advanced biofuels without driving up Arkansans’ gas and food prices.”

The policy has long been a subject of derision among economists and scientists, who argue that it does nothing to help the environment while raising the price of corn, but it has long been thought untouchable because the farming interests who benefit from it have enjoyed little organized opposition.

That may change. Last week a major political coalition launched a campaign to reverse the fuel standard, arguing that it forces up the price of corn, thereby increasing the price of beef and other food products derived from corn, a burden which falls most heavily on the poor.

Spearheading the anti-RFS coalition is the National Association of Chain Restaurants. NCCR executive director Rob Green said at a press conference last week, “Today we are mobilizing the restaurant community to join this coalition … to urge Congress to repeal the flawed RFS. The law unfairly increases food and commodity costs for chain restaurants and ultimately American diners and shoppers across the country. It is time for small business to engage directly in this important debate and ask their lawmakers to take RFS off the menu.”

The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the interests defending the RFS, were not about to back down, arguing in a statement that consumers and the environment all benefit from the status quo.

“Choice matters. Consumers want options and the ability to make their own informed decision. Right now, we are fighting tooth and nail to introduce more choice into a market that is dominated by the petroleum industry. Repealing the RFS is not the answer because the problem lies with the lack of choice caused by market domination by the petroleum monopoly. I promise you, Senator Barrasso’s proposal will never become law because it is the wrong policy for America, and we will continue fighting for the RFS until the cows come home.”

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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