I’d first like to thank the Chairman for finally holding today’s hearing. An EPW committee oversight hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard is long overdue. Despite the enormous amount of attention and the eventual legislative enactment of the now greatly expanded RFS program, the EPW committee has failed to hold even one hearing on RFS in the 110th Congress – until today. Not one hearing, despite the fact that the EPW committee is the primary committee of jurisdiction.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held 4 hearings. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held 3 hearings. The Senate Agriculture Committee has held 2 hearings. Even the Senate Homeland Security Committee has held a hearing. In the 110th Congress we’ve seen at least 5 House and Senate committees hold at least 12 hearings reviewing biofuels policy, but EPW has not held one – until today. It’s important to note that today is also nearly 7 months after – after Congress passed a massive five-fold increase in the biofuels mandates. Where was the RFS oversight and legislative input before enactment of this act? Not anywhere before this committee.
Under my leadership, the committee and subcomittee held 14 hearings on the RFS program, examining issues from the future of transportation fuels to the most recent and unfortunately last oversight hearing in September 2006 which highlighted the implementation of the RFS program.
I’m further disappointed that today’s hearing appears to merely be a “check the box” exercise for the majority. In the face of mounting questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on livestock feed prices, its effect on food prices, its economic feasibility, its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage, and its numerous environmental impacts, the majority has purposely chosen to avoid examining these real issues. Instead, the focus of today’s oversight hearing is on “the status of life-cycle analysis and advancements in next generation biofuels.” No doubt that’s an important issue, but hardly as pressing as the raging food vs. fuel debate that’s occurring across the country and around the globe – a debate occurring everywhere but before the EPW committee.
Additionally, limiting this hearing to just three outside witnesses does not even begin to address the numerous issues arising from the RFS mandates. In my home state of Oklahoma , many cattlemen, pork producers, and poultry producers are struggling with the record high corn prices. We need to hear from the livestock producers, the corn growers, the ethanol producers, the states, the oil refiners, the economists, and others to fully understand and appreciate the consequences of this program. I hope the majority will schedule the hearing which I requested in my May 5th letter to Chairman Boxer to fully examine these issues.
The New York Times has stated, “Soaring food prices, driven in part by demand for ethanol made from corn, have helped slash the amount of food aid the government buys to its lowest level in a decade, possibly resulting in more hungry people around the world this year.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently warned that high food prices could wipe out progress in reducing poverty and hurt global economic growth.
In April, a Time Magazine article titled “The Clean Energy Scam,” by reporter Michael Grunwald, stated that our current policies on corn ethanol are “environmentally disastrous… The bio-fuels boom, in short, is one that could haunt the planet for generations – and it’s only getting started.”
Even Miles O’Brien of CNN, a man of whom I have been harshly critical for his climate change reporting, understands our current problems. O’Brien reported on CNN in February that “if every last ear of corn grown in America were used for ethanol, it would reduce our oil consumption by only 7 percent.” O’Brien also reported, “Corn ethanol is not as clean, efficient, or practical as the politicians claim.”
On Earth Day, Lester Brown, who has been dubbed “the guru of the environmental movement,” called on Congress to “revisit recently enacted federal mandates requiring the diversion of foodstuffs for production of bio-fuels.”
When you have Lester Brown, Miles O’Brien, Time Magazine, the New York Times, the United Nations, and James Inhofe all in agreement on the need to reexamine our current renewable fuels policy, you can rest assured this current policy is horribly misguided. It’s this Committee’s delegated responsibility to exercise oversight, to reassess, and to legislate on the Renewable Fuels Standard. I sincerely hope that process will finally start today.