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Senators seek to reign in EPA's restrictions on ethanol

Agriculture.com Staff 09/23/2009 @ 9:43am

Three Midwestern senators have introduced amendments to an Interior Department funding bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to approve blending ethanol in gasoline at 15% and to restrict EPA's ability to used international indirect land use effects when it calculates the carbon footprint of biofuels.

The first amendment, to boost the blend rate from 10% to 15% is sponsored by Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The amendment to restrict international indirect land use was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with Nelson and Grassley as co-sponsors.

On raising the blend rate to 15%, Grassley said Tuesday that "I still believe that the best way for this matter to be resolved is for the EPA to review the science and approve the higher blend. But the EPA needs to know that we're watching the all-too-lengthy deliberating process that they seem to be going through, and of course their lack of action in this area. And it's time for them, I think, to move forward."

The amendments don't change existing law. They would dry up funding for enforcement for the 2010 fiscal year that starts October 1. The 2007 energy bill increases federal mandates for domestic use of ethanol and biodiesel, but it also requires EPA to calculate indirect effects that might increase greenhouse gas emissions associated with those fuels when it issues regulations for the new renewable fuel standard, called RFS2.

Some environmental groups want EPA to consider how U.S. corn and soybean plantings may increase deforestation in the tropics, something the EPA has done in its first draft of the rules.

"Calculating the international indirect effects is controversial and lacks any scientific consensus," Grassley said. "EPA's analysis for its rulemaking on RFS2 contain calculations for international land use changes. However, nowhere in the statute is the EPA required to calculate international effects."

Several farm groups as well as ethanol lobbying groups support the amendments.

"The theory of indirect land use is just that, a theory," National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a statement released Tuesday. "This is not based on universally accepted science and should not be considered when regulating renewable fuels."

Grassley said he expects the amendment to come up for a vote in the Senate this week. When asked if he is confident that it will pass, he told Agriculture Online, "You just can't take votes on ethanol for granted anymore in the Senate like you used to be able to. But I still think we're in a strong position."

Three Midwestern senators have introduced amendments to an Interior Department funding bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to approve blending ethanol in gasoline at 15% and to restrict EPA's ability to used international indirect land use effects when it calculates the carbon footprint of biofuels.

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