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Biofuels Ads Target White House

Starting today, you’ll find ads supporting a strong renewable fuel standard posted on websites that cover Washington politics, including Politico. It’s an effort by Fuels America, a coalition of biofuels groups, to influence the White House ahead of an expected June 1 announcement by EPA on ethanol and biodiesel blending levels for 2014, 2015, and 2016.

In the coming days, television ads will run in the Washington, D.C., media market that urge viewers “Tell EPA NOT to side with the oil industry.” 

But the EPA has already sent its proposal to the Office of Management and Budget for review. During a press conference Tuesday, Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen said, “This is really the White House’s call.”

In November of 2013, the EPA proposed rolling back the blending mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and justified its decision by citing the so-called blend wall, a gasoline market already saturated by 10% blends of ethanol with few pumps set up to sell higher blends of either E15 or E85. The announcement drew an outpouring of protest from farm groups and politicians in the Midwest.

In recent months, as EPA worked to meet a court-ordered June 1 deadline for its latest “renewable volume obligations,” the agency hasn’t met with stakeholders in the fuel industry, Dinneen said.

So last week, members of Fuels America, which includes Dinneen’s group and the National Corn Growers Association, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for “a high-level White House meeting” to discuss blending levels.  

The letter said the RFS tripled the sale of renewable fuels in the U.S. and allowed cellulosic ethanol production to get a start.

“But 18 months ago, your administration unilaterally and unwisely disrupted years of policy stability, replacing certainty with uncertainty,” the letter said. “This was enormously disruptive and has largely frozen investment in the advanced biofuel industry. Indeed, not a single additional commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant has selected a site in the U.S. since the EPA’s November 2013 announcement.”

On Tuesday, Dinneen wouldn’t say what kind of response his group got from the letter. “I won’t discuss whether or when we’ll have a meeting, but you can expect a meeting will occur,” he said. 

(White House staffers also would not comment on the OMB review or any meetings.)

Members of Fuels America remain concerned that EPA will continue to use the blend wall to keep the RFS far below the mandates planned when the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act was passed. 

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on May 7, the group responded to oil industry pressure to keep using the blend wall justification.

“The supposed lack of infrastructure to distribute larger volumes of ethanol above and beyond the ‘blend wall’ is not a circumstance that EPA may take into consideration when evaluating whether a waiver is justified. In fact, the escalating volume requirements of the RFS were meant to drive investment in the installation of new infrastructure that will enable larger quantities of renewable fuels to be distributed to consumers,” the letter to McCarthy said.

Although corn ethanol production is nearing the 15 billion gallons allowed by the RFS, the law has the potential to require blending of another 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022, Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Coalition, pointed out at the Fuels America press conference Tuesday. 

That’s what the oil industry’s battle with the RFS is all about -- preventing that encroachment into its market share, biofuel supporters argue.

“This is really about low-carbon fuels,” Coleman said. 

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