ABC 2017: American Petroleum Institute sees chance at ethanol reform

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

WASHINGTON — The law that requires a rising level of ethanol to be blended into the fuel supply won’t get repealed, but the timing could be right for it to be amended.

That’s according to Will Hupman, federal regulations director at the American Petroleum Institute, who addressed the American Boating Congress on Tuesday.

“There are too many corn state senators to have a vote to eliminate the [Renewable Fuel Standard],” Hupman said. “We’d love to wave our magic wand. But there is a lot of consternation around the RFS from a lot of coalitions — like the restaurant folks, the motorcycle folks, the boating folks — who all care about this program.”

For the first time in its history, corn and ethanol supporters are sitting down with groups that oppose the law the way it’s written in an effort to reach an agreement. “This is the first time this effort has been undertaken” by all of the stakeholders on both sides, Hupman said.

Good news arrived after the session on Tuesday when Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, removed his name from a list of those being considered for FBI director. He has been a leader in the Senate on reforming the RFS.

Scott Vinson, vice president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, outlined a list of reasons the RFS could be reformed and a list of reasons that it might not happen.

On the positive side, House leadership wants to see the law reformed. Also, the merits of the argument are in favor of reform, Vinson said.

“You wouldn’t build a policy like this today,” he said. “There were all kinds of assumptions made which have not held true. And it benefits only the corn and ethanol industries at everyone else’s expense.”

The coalition that favors reform is much bigger and more diverse than those who wish to keep the RFS as it is. Key senators want to reform the law.

Lastly, the American Petroleum Institute carries a lot of weight, he said.

Vinson also listed five factors that did not favor amendment, the first being a packed legislative agenda that includes repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and enacting sweeping tax-law changes.

His second point — that there could be a Senate leadership shuffle if Cornyn were tapped as FBI director — was basically wiped out later Tuesday when Cornyn withdrew.

The third negative factor was that a bipartisan deal might not be reached that satisfies all parties. A fourth, he said, is that corn and ethanol supporters appear to consider ethanol an “existential issue” and fear that amending the law would lead to their demise.

And lastly — distractions.

“You are in Washington at a very interesting time,” Vinson said. “We’re seeing new drama invented almost every day now. Congress is doing its best to stay on task, but it’s possible that with investigations and scandal possibly looming that Congress doesn’t get anything done.”

All things considered, Vinson said, he’s remaining positive.

Read more about the ABC in Trade Only Today this week.

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