The House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Power Wednesday kicked off a hearing on the Renewable Fuels Standard, inviting comments from top-level federal stakeholders.
The hearing, "Overview of the Renewable Fuel Standard: Government Perspectives," is complimentary to bipartisan white papers requesting industry input on a range of questions about the current RFS system.
Testifying in the hearing were U.S. Energy Administration Administrator Adam Sieminksi, USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality Christopher Grundler.
Legislators asked questions of Sieminksi, Glauber and Grundler, ranging from ethanol's testing and safety, cost of production and environmental impact.
Mixed opinions on the policy flooded the hearing room, with clear supporters and opponents of ethanol coming out to voice their thoughts.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., referred to the RFS as a "Rube Goldberg device" that causes confusion among consumers and the markets alike. If consumers were to dig deeper into the policy, he said, "I think their heads would spin."
Pompeo said mandates like the RFS cause market disruptions – an opinion shared by some livestock groups, like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which opposes the policy.
NCBA said RFS mandates are "inflexible" and they are "a burden on cattle producers across the country."
Corresponding with the hearing, the group submitted a letter to Congress members urging support for legislation to reform the RFS, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
The RFS Reform Act, NCBA said, would provide relief to those affected by an "unworkable" RFS.
"This legislation will help ease concerns created by the ethanol mandate and allow cattle producers to be able to compete on a level playing field for a bushel of corn, by prohibiting corn-based ethanol from being used to meet the RFS, and reducing the total size of the RFS over the next few years," NCBA Policy Vice Chairman Craig Uden said.
But supporters of the policy pointed out that in committee discussion, USDA's Glauber mentioned that the RFS has little effect on food prices. Glauber noted also in a prepared testimony that rising commodity prices have been due to "a variety of factors, such as increasing global demand, key production shortfalls due to droughts, as well as increasing energy prices."
Glauber expects corn use for ethanol to slow due to the "blend wall," and prospects for record grain harvests to lead to stronger profits in dairy and livestock sectors.
Ethanol group Growth Energy placed negativity towards the program on the shoulders of food and oil corporations.
"Large food corporations, like oil companies, are recording near record profits, while trying to use the RFS as a scapegoat as they increase prices at their own discretion at the pump and grocery store at the expense of the American consumer," said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.
The hearing compliments the committee's white papers released this spring, which requested opinions on the RFS specifically from the agriculture industry. Other white papers dealt with the "blend wall," environmental issues, Renewable Identification Number fraud and other related topics.
"This committee has not taken a comprehensive look at the RFS since it was last revised in 2007. The time is now ripe to discuss which aspects of the RFS are working well and which aspects may be in need of improvement," Subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said.
To download written testimonies from hearing participants, click here.