Ethanol groups maintained their strong lobbying presence in the year’s first quarter, a pivotal time for them as the EPA considers a rule to allow the year-round sale of E15, a gasoline variety mixed with 15 percent ethanol.
The use of E15 between June and September is banned under the Renewable Fuel Standard that sets minimum levels of plant-derived products to be used in transportation fuels. But biofuels advocacy groups and corn-state members of Congress have urged the EPA to lift that barrier, and the public comment period on an EPA proposal to do so closed Monday.
While factions of the oil and natural gas industries have warned they will sue over the proposal, putting the EPA rule into force would mark a long-held goal of the ethanol community.
“With year-round E15, EPA has the opportunity to give American farmers and producers the ability to grow greater demand and expand market access for their homegrown fuel,” Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade organization, said at a March field hearing EPA held in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Lobbying reports filed with the Senate show an uptick in spending from key biofuels groups, including Sioux Falls, S.D.-headquartered ethanol firm POET LLC, and the trade groups Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy.
POET spent significantly more compared to the final quarter of 2018, jumping from $170,000 to $360,000. Growth Energy also reported a spike in lobbying costs, increasing from $410,000 to $440,000 between quarters. The National Corn Growers Association spent $110,000 in the first quarter of 2019, versus $100,000 the period before. And the Renewable Fuels Association, which has yet to disclose its latest in-house lobbying costs, spent $60,000 from January through March on an outside lobbying firm, compared to $20,000 the previous quarter.
Frank Macchiarola, of the American Petroleum Institute, said on an April 25 call that API would sue if the rule is finalized. EPA has said it would finish the rule-making process by June, in time for E15 to be sold over the summer.
Critics of the Renewable Fuel Standard say it is harmful to the environment, creates a false market and hurts vehicles not designed to run on ethanol-blended fuels.
“EPA should focus on protecting consumers from mis-fueling,” said Nicole Vasilaros of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which opposed the proposal. “It’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for the country.”
RFS backers say the program is vital to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But the environmental legacy of the policy is questionable: It has consistently missed its statutory targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a General Accountability Office report published in 2016.
At least one biofuel group decreased in-house lobbying. The National Corn Growers Association spent $110,000 in the first quarter, down from $130,000 in the previous period.