WASHINGTON — With the current session of Congress quickly coming to a close, the top policymaker on environmental issues in the U.S. House made sure new draft legislation on ethanol mandates he co-authored would see the light of day.
In hosting a stakeholder hearing on Dec. 11 about the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act draft proposal, House Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) sought to outline the Republicans’ position before the new Congress debates the policy next year.
Specifically, his ambitious proposal, co-authored by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), would aim to update requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard, and it would seek to improve interoperability between the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation on vehicle efficiency programs.
The timing of the expansive proposal makes it highly unlikely the current lame-duck Congress will consider it before adjourning at the end of the month. When Congress convenes in January, House Democrats, not Republicans, will manage the committees, as well as legislation before the floor of the chamber.
Additionally, the proposal also would direct the EPA administrator to grant a waiver to fuels containing an ethanol concentration between 15% and 20%, and it would carve a path toward higher-octane fuels for light-duty vehicles. Republicans in the subcommittee argued in background about the proposal that high-octane fuels could be economical and technologically feasible for producers and the fuel suppliers.
“The need for this type of comprehensive reform is timely. Stakeholders on all sides of this debate have been whipsawed for months by rumored and actual administrative actions,” Shimkus explained.
Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), however, noted the hurdles the proposal would face, questioning the Trump administration’s commitment to environmental safeguards related to fuel efficiency. The top Democrat also said he was disappointed that provisions about electric vehicles (EVs) were not included.
“If we are going to do a major overhaul of federal fuel and vehicle programs, we must look at how to further promote EVs as well,” Tonko said, adding, “For the time being, while liquid fuels continue to be the predominant energy source in transportation, these fuels should be as clean, and used as efficiently, as possible.”
Democratic aides familiar with the policy indicated freight transportation could be incorporated in a plan similar to the GOP draft.
Stakeholders appearing before the panel welcomed the discussion draft’s overall aim, but took issue with specific provisions. Wesley Spurlock, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, argued certain requirements could potentially lead to economic burdens for parts of the agriculture sector.
“This discussion draft would undo successful renewable fuel policy that has had a large positive impact on rural communities,” Spurlock said. “At a time when farm income has declined more than 50% over the past five years and farmers continue to face market challenges from trade disruptions, we can’t afford more uncertainty.”
David Fialkov, vice president of government relations with Natso, the national association representing the travel plaza and truck stop industry, said liability provisions in the proposal’s misfueling prevention requirements were problematic.
“Without such protection, retailers will inevitably be reluctant to invest in new fuels and this will disrupt the legislation’s objective of facilitating a smooth transition to higher octane fuels,” Fialkov emphasized.
In November, EPA finalized a rule setting blending requirements for renewable fuels. The agency also announced it had commenced an environmental review aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy-duty truck engines. Senior agency officials labeled the effort the Cleaner Trucks Initiative. Further details about the plan are expected.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced recently he plans to nominate Andrew Wheeler for the EPA administrator role. Wheeler is EPA’s acting administrator.