Lawmakers scurried to wrap up business in Washington this week before heading home for the holidays. But a lengthy “to-do list” awaits their return in January.
The unfinished business includes a languishing farm bill; tax and immigration reforms; and raising the debt ceiling before Uncle Sam maxes out his credit card – again -- in February.
With half of the session already in the books, the 113th Congress is on pace to be the least productive in history and with a November Gallup poll revealing an approval rating of just 9 percent, it’s also the least popular.
Nevertheless, lawmakers continue to offer new legislation to put the nation on a path to prosperity. Increasingly, those ideas target energy production. And late last week, a bipartisan group of Senators proposed eliminating a key provision of the Renewable Fuel Standard requiring the majority of U.S. ethanol be made from corn.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, introduced legislation last week called the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013.
The bill would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate from the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. While the oil industry would be released from the mandatory blending of the grain-based fuel additive, the measure WOULD preserve the advanced biofuels portion of the rule.
Senator Feinstein says the use of corn to produce fuel is responsible for pushing the cost of food and animal feed higher while damaging the environment. She went on to say that oil companies had hit the so-called “blend wall” and were unable to mix more ethanol into gasoline without “causing problems for automobiles, boats and other vehicles.”
The RFS states that 14.4 billion gallons of ethanol must be produced from corn in 2014. Last year, nearly 44 percent of America’s corn harvest was processed into ethanol to help fulfill a 13.2 billion gallon mandate. The statutes calling for 14.4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014 but are currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the EPA has proposed cutting next year’s mandate by almost 7 percent to 13.4 billion gallons.
Agricultural and processed food producer groups, including the National Chicken Council and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have signed on in support of the measure.
Bob Dinneen, of the Renewable Fuels Association, called the legislation “...monumentally stupid” and referred to the proposed measure as “The Oil Monopoly Protection Act of 2013.”
But ethanol isn’t the only renewable fuel facing increased scrutiny. Senator Max Baucus is calling for ALL clean energy subsidies to receive closer examination. After years of piling various tax breaks and mandates onto energy policy, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee wants the more than 40 different tax incentives to be reduced to just 2.
The Montana Democrat’s plan draws heavily on several Republican and Democratic strategies reducing them to one incentive for clean electricity and one for clean transportation fuel. Baucus warns that without reform, U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for $150 billion over the next 10 years.
The various incentives include the 21 year-old Wind Energy Tax credit which is set to expire at the end of the year. Among the electrical power generating companies moving to get construction started before the December 31 deadline is MidAmerican Energy. The Des Moines, Iowa-based company -- owned by billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway – announced it had placed the largest onshore order in the world for approximately $1 billion worth of wind turbines. Iowa already receives almost 25 percent of its electricity from the wind and when the nearly 450 turbines are completed in 2015 that number is expected to grow significantly.