Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) negotiated some concessions for his home state's corn ethanol industry before he signed on to a bill last week that would bar U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions -- but not as many as he won two years ago before agreeing to support a climate change bill.
In 2009, the then-chairman of the House Agriculture Committee was instrumental in adding language to a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill that would have allowed corn ethanol to qualify for a larger share of the renewable fuel standard by tweaking the way the carbon footprint of various fuels is calculated.
The RFS was expanded in 2007 to require the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels annually by 2022, including 21 billion gallons from advanced fuels, which are defined as at least 50 percent less carbon-intensive than gasoline.
The 2007 energy law requires EPA to consider land-use changes in other countries that result from fuel production when calculating a fuel's carbon footprint. But before he agreed to support the climate change bill sponsored by then-Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Peterson convinced them to include a provision that would have put a five-year stay on that rule.
The stay, which might have been extended, could have allowed corn and soy-based ethanol to qualify as an advanced fuel for the purposes of the mandate.
"Corn alone will not feed the RFS, but it allows then an open opportunity for all technologies to contribute to it," said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.
But no such provision was included in last week's EPA greenhouse gas pre-emption bill (H.R. 910) before Peterson agreed to become one of three House Democratic co-sponsors of that measure. Peterson's office declined to say whether he had requested it.
Instead, the bill's sponsors -- Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in the House and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in the Senate -- added language clarifying that their bill's prohibition on EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions would not prevent the agency from implementing and enforcing the renewable fuel mandate.
That was welcome news to the biofuels industry. Some opponents of Upton-Inhofe, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, had warned that the bill could undermine RFS in future years, because the 2007 legislation included greenhouse gas targets.
Jackson testified before an Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel last month that "the bill likely would prohibit EPA from taking further actions to implement the renewable fuels program, which promotes the domestic production of advanced biofuels."
"This would create great uncertainty in the alternative fuels market and potentially remove one of the most significant drivers for alternative fuels development in the United States," agreed Waxman, who is now ranking member of the committee, in a February analysis of the bill.
Hartwig said that while the ethanol industry would still like to see the indirect land-use requirement repealed, producers appreciate that Peterson had negotiated an exemption in Upton-Inhofe that would preserve their mandate.
"Remember, he doesn't get to draft these bills anymore," Hartwig said. "His place at the table isn't as prominent as it was when Democrats controlled that House. So [indirect land use] may be negotiated down the road, I don't know. But that might be the dynamic that probably limits Collin Peterson's influence on legislation."
In addition to Peterson, Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have signed on as co-sponsors of Upton-Inhofe.
"It's time that the EPA realizes it cannot regulate what has not been legislated," Manchin said in a statement Friday. "Our government was designed so that elected representatives are in charge of making important decisions, not bureaucrats. The simple fact is that the EPA is trying to seize more power than it should have, and must be stopped. I hope that Democrats and Republicans can come together to stop the EPA's jobs-destroying power grab."
The four Senate Republicans who have not signed onto the bill are Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
In addition to the RFS exemption, Upton and Inhofe inserted a provision in the bill specifying that it does not apply to regulation of ozone-depleting pollutants under the Montreal Protocol. But Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy for the National Wildlife Federation, said this so-called exemption was meaningless because it would not allow EPA to move ahead with its current efforts to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
"It has the appearance of an exemption, but it really closes down action," Mendelson said.
HFCs are an alternative to ozone depleters, but they contribute greatly to climate change.
"When you determine there are alternatives to the ozone depleters, you judge their environmental characteristics of what is the best substitute. The administration has been looking at a lot of ways you could reduce HFC use through the ozone depleting substance program," Mendelson said. "Essentially, the ability to do that, to essentially reduce and eliminate HFC use because of its climate change potential ... could not happen under the Upton bill."
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) has said he plans to move Upton's measure through committee quickly, but he has not yet set a date for the subcommittee markup.
Last week he granted Waxman's request to hold a hearing this week on the science of climate change. The panel will hear tomorrow from seven scientists on whether the evidence is conclusive that climate change is happening and linked to man-made gases.
Schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
Witnesses: John Christy, director, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville; Christopher Field, director, Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, Calif.; Knute Nadelhoffer, director, University of Michigan Biological Station; Roger Pielke Sr., senior research scientist, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder; Donald Roberts, professor emeritus, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.; Richard Somerville, professor emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; Francis Zwiers, director, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, University of Victoria, British Columbia.
Want to read more stories like this?
E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.
Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.