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NMMA: EPA seeks guidance from Congress on ethanol

A recent proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency seeking to raise the level of ethanol in the fuel supply was overwhelmingly rejected during its public comment period, prompting the EPA to turn to Congress for help on how to meet the mandate.

That’s according to National Marine Manufacturers Association members working through the court system and on Capitol Hill to change the mandate they say requires the fuel supply to consist of more ethanol than is feasible.

“The EPA’s hands are truly tied,” NMMA lobbyist John McKnight told Soundings Trade Only. “They have a mandate from Congress, so this is what they have to do. Under the RFS we’re supposed to have 36 billion gallons of ethanol in the fuel supply by 2022, which, based on projections, is technically unfeasible.”

The EPA proposal would have made E15 more prevalent in an effort to meet the requirement to increase the amount of ethanol in the fuel supply.

“We just went to a meeting with the EPA about three weeks ago, and they said, ‘We have received an overwhelming number of negative comments against our proposal,’ ” McKnight said. “Even the state of California, which has a big influence on the EPA’s decisions, said, ‘Don’t change from E10 to E15.’ Now the EPA is taking the football and punting back to Congress and saying, ‘Our hands are tied now unless you do something.’ ”

When the RFS was amended in 2007 it was written with the assumption that fuel consumption would increase, McKnight said. But two things happened.

New Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards have required cars to become more efficient, McKnight said. “Also, there was a recession. We’re seeing for the first time since the Industrial Revolution a decline in fuel usage in this country,” McKnight said.

The decline means that in order to hit the static requirement of 36 billion gallons of ethanol in the fuel supply the EPA would have to increase the amount of ethanol “astronomically,” to about E30 or E40, McKnight said.

“That’s the problem. The mandate is so hard-lined that it doesn’t accommodate the realities in the marketplace, so the EPA needs to go back to Congress” to find out how they want to address the problem, NMMA regulatory and legal affairs director Nicole Vasilaros told Trade Only.

Several bills are pending in the House and Senate to reform or repeal the RFS.

NMMA legislative council Jeff Gabriel said the good news is that the groups have raised the profile of the issue so much that major publications “are discussing the ridiculousness of this mandate.”

“In the strategic waiver process there’s wiggle room, so there’s concern that with everything Congress has to deal with coming up in the fall — mostly the next round of fiscal cliff fights — there’s concern that Congress will take its eye off the ball,” Gabriel said, stressing the importance of continued media coverage of the issue.

Because Congress seems geographically split on the issue instead of along party lines, Vasilaros hopes it will be an issue that lawmakers can move on.

“Hopefully ours is an issue they can get behind,” she said.

— Reagan Haynes

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