New Studies Raise More Concern over Dramatic RFS Increase Passed by Congress in 2007
February 8, 2008
Posted by Matthew_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (3:56pm ET)
Barely a month after Congress passed the most onerous fuels mandates in history, two new studies have found that an increased use of biofuels may have a significant impact on the environment. But of course this isn’t surprising to those who actually applied a critical eye to the legislation before Congress imposed a nearly five-fold expansion of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandate. The studies released this week are the latest to raise mounting questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on livestock feed prices, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage and numerous other issues.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog reports, “Ethanol loses more glitter after a new study shows it is worse for the environment than fossil fuels, reports the WSJ. Planting biofuel crops in grasslands or forests wipes out natural carbon sinks, prompting Grist to argue that the U.S. Congress 'blew it' with its recent biofuel mandate. The NYT reports that prominent scientists wrote the White House and Congress urging a rethink.”
In 2005, Senator Inhofe, as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee worked successfully with his colleagues to create a comprehensive program to promote the use of renewable fuels in the United States in an achievable, measured and economic manner. The Reliable Fuels Act, ultimately incorporated into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT), encouraged the production and use of bio-fuels.
Last year, while the Senate Energy Committee was the prime mover of the hastily increased RFS mandate, Senator Inhofe called for increased oversight by the EPW Committee and warned of the unintended consequences of such a drastic increase. Before 2007, the EPW Committee had held at least 13 hearings on the RFS program, most recently an oversight hearing in September 2006 which highlighted the implementation of this new federal RFS program. In 2007, the EPW Committee failed to hold one.
As the ranking member of the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe was active in calling for the EPW Committee to continue oversight of the RFS program:
- In his opening statement at the EPW Committee’s Organizational meeting on January 17, 2007, Senator Inhofe expressed his desire for the EPW Committee to keep a watchful eye on the RFS program. He stated: “The renewable fuels program is a very popular issue within our jurisdiction. It’s so popular that it’s being discussed in terms of other Committees and other pieces of legislation such as the Farm Bill. I hope that whatever happens on this issue in this Congress, that it happens here in this Committee. Although I am committed to reducing U.S. consumption of Middle East oil, I am deeply concerned of the unintended consequences of sharp increases to the renewable fuels mandate. I have already heard from a variety of livestock producers across the country that the current mandate has hurt their businesses due to higher feed costs. And I am far from alone in my concern – even the Renewable Fuels Association – big ethanol’s lobbying group – has expressed concern with premature increases.”
-In an April 10, 2007, statement Senator Inhofe again expressed the need for the EPW Committee to conduct oversight, saying "I am hopeful that the EPA, as the sole regulatory agency over renewable fuels, considers the impacts of increased corn prices on affected industries like hog and cattle producers as well as consumers. As the current Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, which has principle jurisdiction over motor fuels policy including renewable fuels, I will continue to work with Senator Boxer to provide committee oversight of the RFS program to ensure consistent, flexible, and efficient national policy."
-In May 2007, Senator Inhofe and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, sent EPW chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) a letter urging her to exercise the EPW Committee’s oversight of the EPA’s renewable fuels program. The letter also asked Chairman Boxer to convene a legislative business meeting to consider related legislation as soon as possible. "As you know, the Committee on Environment and Public Works has exclusive jurisdiction over the existing Renewable Fuels Program and primary jurisdiction over biofuels legislation in general," Senators Inhofe and Voinovich wrote in the May 1 letter to Chairman Boxer. "Further, the Committee has a strong history of considering fuels legislation, whether related to water quality issues or more recently concerning the relationship between air quality and energy security, in a bipartisan manner. We hope that tradition continues under your leadership." Read More
-On Tuesday, December 4, 2007, Senator Inhofe joined Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Benjamin L. Cardin (D - MD), Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Susan M. Collins (R - ME) in writing a letter to the President to “urge your Administration to carefully evaluate and respond to unintended public health and safety risks that could result from the increased use of ethanol as a ‘general purpose’ transportation fuel.” The letter notes that the President has called for a national effort to reduce consumers’ demand for gasoline by 20 percent in ten years, in part through increased use of renewable transportation fuels such as ethanol. In addition, the Senate, as part of its pending energy legislation, has adopted language that would significantly increase renewable fuel use – particularly the use of ethanol – over the next two decades.
Senator Inhofe’s concern over the rapid increase of the RFS was one of his primary reasons for voting against the energy bill that was passed by Congress last December. In a press release following the vote, he stated:
“Further, I am disappointed that this bill significantly increases the renewable fuels mandate in an irresponsible manner. Through my leadership position on the EPW Committee in 2005, I successfully worked with my colleagues to create a comprehensive program to increase the use of renewable fuels in a measured way that makes economic sense. This bill, however, contains a nearly five-fold expansion in the bio-fuels mandate. The fact is there are a growing number of questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on feed prices and our agricultural community, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, and its water usage. As a result, I believe it’s just too early to significantly increase the mandate. The fuels industry needs more time to adapt and catch-up with the many developing challenges facing corn-based ethanol.”
In Case You Missed It: "Ethanol's Water Shortage," The Wall Street Journal (October 17, 2007)
Top Ten Democrat Energy Bill Failures (Press Release From Thursday, June 28, 2007)
America’s Energy Future Needs To Be Stable, Diverse And Affordable (Senator Inhofe, The Hill, June 27, 2007) Inhofe: Senate Passed Energy Bill Will Increase Costs To Consumers (Press Release From Friday, June 22, 2007)
Inhofe Statement On President’s Executive Order On Cafe And Alternative Fuels (Press Release From Monday, May 14, 2007)