Dec. 18--WASHINGTON -- California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would eliminate corn ethanol from the Renewable Fuel Standard as a way to limit the damage -- higher corn prices, rapid conversion of land to corn cultivation -- that increased ethanol production has caused.
Critics, however, say the negatives are exaggerated and that the bill would undermine the successes the industry already has seen in controlling emissions and encouraging development of new technology.
The Renewable Fuel Standard is a federal mandate by the Environmental Protection Agency to add an increasing amount of alternative fuels like corn ethanol (called biofuels) into gasoline every year as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the country's dependency on foreign oil imports.
In 2007, when the standard was fully implemented as part of the Clean Air Act, Congress projected there would be an increase in the production of gasoline and worked up a formula to add biofuels to reflect the increase. But oil production declined and the rising mandate remained, eventually pitting automakers who said too much ethanol would damage engines, against lawmakers who maintained emission regulations are important.
Feinstein says her bill would address some of the adverse effects of corn being used to make ethanol. "Under the corn ethanol mandate in the RFS, roughly 44 percent of U.S. corn is diverted from food to fuel, pushing up the cost of food and animal feed and damaging the environment," Feinstein said in a statement last week.
Feinstein also cited an Associated Press study released last month that found conservation land was being repurposed for corn ethanol production, about 7 million acres total.
But not all agree with Feinstein that the ethanol mandate is hurting the environment, economy and engines. Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, said Feinstein's bill is counterproductive to the goals of the Clean Air Act and would deter foreign companies looking to invest heavily in U.S. biofuel production.
"Only in Washington, D.C., can someone say that this is a good thing for advanced (biofuels)," Coleman said. He criticized Feinstein for "digging up old political agendas" against corn ethanol and warned that other biofuels will be on the chopping block if her bill is allowed to go to the Senate floor.
Feinstein maintained that the bill specifically removes only corn ethanol and not other forms of biofuels derived from other plants like algae. She even said that if something else were to be added to the bill to broaden its scope, she would flip her position and oppose it.
"While I believe the federal corn ethanol mandate must be repealed, I continue to strongly support the advanced biofuel side of the Renewable Fuel Standard and will oppose any provision to weaken it," Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday in response to questions from the Register.
The bill has nine co-sponsors and has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
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Feinstein targets corn ethanol in legislation
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