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Scoop: Year-round ethanol rider push

Jan 22, 2024
Illustration of a danger sign with an ear of corn for an exclamation point.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The biofuels industry is pushing to inject support for ethanol into funding bills.

Why it matters: The D.C. ethanol crew is racing to get a win in Congress ahead of this year's presidential elections, which could determine the future of federal ethanol policy.

  • The federal mandate for a minimum ethanol blend in gasoline has expired, as we've explained, creating leeway for any future administration to dilute the renewable fuel standard.
  • And we don't know what a second-term President Trump would do to the IRA's aviation fuel program, from which ethanol producers stand to gain.

Driving the news: Renewable Fuels Association president Geoff Cooper told Axios last week that the trade group is pushing for a "legislative fix that would allow year-round E15."

  • E15 is gasoline with 10.5%–15% ethanol content. Currently the federal government must authorize E15 sales.
  • Cooper said his office is talking with Senate EPW staff to get clearance for language to make it into appropriations.
  • "[EPW chair Tom Carper] wants to know what sort of impact this is going to have on reducing emissions from transportation," he said. "And we are trying to convince him that it absolutely is worth the effort."

Between the lines: Talks about attaching the E15 language appear to be largely at the staff and lobbyist level right now, based on conversations with relevant lawmakers.

  • Carper told Jael last week that he hadn't heard about this push. Neither had Betty McCollum, the lead House Democrat on EPA appropriations.
  • "You know more than I do," McCollum told Axios on Thursday.
  • On supporting year-round E15, she said: "I'd need to look at what it looks like."

The other side: Republican supporters of year-round E15 are playing coy on the push.

  • Sen. Deb Fischer — lead author of a bipartisan bill that would allow E15 all year — said she "wouldn't say I'm pushing it" in the spending fight, "but I think it might be an opportunity."
  • An aide to Senate EPW ranking member Shelley Moore Capito told Axios she would support its inclusion in the funding bill.

But, but, but: It's going to be hard for anyone to get a rider into the funding bills when House Republicans can't even agree on a topline spending number. And some conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, are skeptical of year-round E15.

The big picture: Ethanol folks may not need Congress. Biden's EPA told Midwest states it hoped to finalize a rule allowing year-round E15 in at least some areas this year.

  • But regulators can miss these deadlines. Legislation similar to what the RFA is pushing would require it to get done — even if Trump wins.
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