Lawmakers want coal- and gas-based ethanol in fuel mandate

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including three Texans, has introduced legislation that would allow natural gas and coal-based ethanol to compete alongside the corn-based variety for a U.S. renewable fuels mandate.

The Renewable Fuel Standard program sets an annual target for the total volume of renewable fuels in transportation fuels sold in the U.S., with additional targets in subcategories for biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuels and cellulosic fuels. The bill would make “domestic alternative fuels,” consisting of coal and natural gas-based ethanol, eligible to go toward the program’s total-renewable-fuel requirement.

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, the bill’s lead sponsor and a longtime critic of the RFS, said he was concerned that about 40 percent of U.S. corn production last year went to ethanol production.

“The RFS’s focus on corn ethanol has translated into higher feed costs for livestock producers and higher food costs for working families,” Olson said in a statement.

In late 2010, the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research wing of the legislative branch, said the recent expansion of U.S. corn production “has only partially offset the rapid growth in demand following the rapid expansion of the U.S. ethanol industry that has occurred since 2005.”

At the same time, however, the agency noted the amount of corn ethanol that can go toward the renewable fuel mandate is capped. The gap will grow from 12 billion gallons in 2010 to 15 billion gallons in 2015, with the cap fixed after 2015.

The bill comes with the support of some food and livestock groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association.

But the Renewable Fuels Association, the U.S. ethanol trade group, came out blasting the bill.

“There is nothing renewable about fossil fuels, and they have no place in national renewable energy policy,” RFA President Bob Dinneen said in a statement.

A list of the bill’s original co-sponsors is: Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston; Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.; Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.; Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio.