EPA to hear testimony on renewable fuels plan as governors, farmers rally against it nearby

Energy Associated Press

A federal proposal to reduce the amount of renewable fuels required in gasoline would have a stifling impact on the ethanol industry and goes against the intentions of Congress when it set the standards eight years ago, opponents of the suggested changes said.

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans last month to reduce renewable fuels requirements by 4 billion gallons in 2015 and more than 3 billion in 2016. It is conducting a public hearing on Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas, before making a final determination on the standards in November.

Chris Grundler, director of the EPA's office of transportation and air quality, said 250 people have signed up to testify at the Jack Reardon Center. Because of the number of those wanting to speak, the EPA is bringing in a second panel so the hearings can be conducted in two separate groups. They are the only public hearings planned on the issue before the EPA announces its decision.

Unless the requirements are reduced, Grundler said, there's no way the standards can be met in the next few years.

"There would be widespread noncompliance, and the EPA is not in the habit of putting out standards we don't think are achievable," he said.

The 2007 renewable fuels law was intended to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster the rural economy by requiring a steady increase in the overall amount of renewable fuels such as ethanol blended into gasoline over time.

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Environmental groups have argued that not only does ethanol add to global warming by removing millions of acres of land from the Conservation Reserve Program for use in corn production, but it also has caused a sharp increase in food costs worldwide as more of the U.S. corn supply is used for fuel.

While the EPA's proposal would reduce the requirements through 2016, Grundler said it still calls for the kind of growth in renewable fuel volumes envisioned when the law was passed.

The EPA contends it is allowed to reduce the volumes under the law because of limitations on the amount that can be consumed because of infrastructure inadequacies, and because of the industry's inability to produce enough non-ethanol fuels to meet the requirements.

"Granted, we are not growing them as fast or as large as Congress anticipated, but they are still growing, just at a different pace than what was expected in 2007," he said.

Opponents of the RFS changes will hold a massive rally Thursday at a nearby park where at least two governors — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon — plan to speak.

Organizers said members of agricultural youth organization FFA will be bused in from outside the state, and members of the National Corn Growers Association from several states, including Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, also are expected to attend.

NCGA president Chip Bowling said EPA's proposal will hurt the ethanol industry and everyone connected to it by removing incentives to build up the infrastructure to handle higher volumes.

Industry growth will be sharply curtailed if retailers and oil companies aren't required to increase the use renewable fuels in their gasoline, Bowling said, which is exactly what Big Oil wants.

"We're the little guy going against the big guy," he said. "Anytime we're displacing 10 percent of their production, they don't like it."

Grundler said it's the first time in his nearly 35 years with the EPA that he's been accused of being in bed with the oil industry.

Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said any suggestion that the EPA is on his industry's side is laughable.

"The EPA is doing what it is doing because it's undeniable there's a lack of demand and infrastructure out there to meet the statutory requirement," he said. "It's that simple."