Perry asks EPA for renewable fuel waiver

Texas Gov. Rick Perry today asked federal regulators to relax the renewable fuel standard, joining four other states that have also asked for waivers amid a drought that has devastated corn crops in the Midwest.

Under the mandate, refiners are required to blend a steadily increasing amount of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the nation’s transportation fuel — 16.55 billion gallons worth in 2013.

But Perry told the Environmental Protection Agency that the standard is “driving up grocery prices for all families” and “is also putting increasing strain on businesses,” with the promise of more pain to come as 2012 corn yields are expected to dip below 2008 levels.

“The forecasts are dire, as crop yield and overall productions are projected to be lower than anticipated,” Perry said in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today.

With more than a third of the nation’s corn crops going to produce ethanol, both families and farmers who rely on corn as feed for livestock are pinched, Perry added.

“RFS may have been a well-intentioned effort to move our country toward energy independence,” Perry added, “but it has, predictably, done much more harm than good.”

Perry has tried this before; four years ago, he made an unsuccessful bid for a partial waiver of the renewable standard.

But this time, Perry isn’t acting alone. The Texan’s latest request puts him in the same company as governors from Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina, which have all asked for one-year RFS waivers.

In his letter today, Perry said he is seeking a full or partial waiver of the renewable fuel requirements for this year and 2013.

The EPA is considering the requests and opened a public comment period on the issue earlier this week. It has a 90-day deadline to decide on the initial requests.

Renewable fuel supporters say the governors are trying to capitalize on concerns about the drought to get a break from the mandate before it starts squeezing refiners. They say the request is being made “under the guise of corn and food price concerns,” but really is aimed at dismantling the renewable fuel standard before it starts getting tough to meet without refining sector changes.

“Just like in 2008, seeking to reduce U.S. ethanol production will not bring about the return to undervalued corn sought by meat groups and food processors,” said the Renewable Fuels Association. “The fact is that waiving any portion of the RFS would likely lead to higher prices at the pump, a greater dependence on imported oil and a chilling slowdown in new biofuel technology investment and development.”

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the group, said Perry’s request gave him deja vu.

“Gov. Perry was misguided on 2008 and he is misguided today,” Hartwig said. “As his party’s nominee for president has said, the RFS is an important component of America’s energy strategy. We believe any waiver remains unnecessary at this time.”

In an energy plan unveiled Thursday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he supported the renewable fuel standard.