US biofuel industry defends record as Biden administration mulls policy reform

Feb 16 (Reuters) - Backers of the U.S. biofuel industry told lawmakers on Wednesday that the nation’s renewable fuel mandates are good for farmers, national security and the environment, defending the controversial program’s record as the administration of President Joe Biden considers reforms.

At issue is the future of the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a roughly 15-year-old law that requires the nation’s oil refiners to annually blend billions of gallons of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the fuel pool.

While the RFS has been a boon to growers, the oil industry opposes the mandates as too costly, and some researchers and environmentalists question its benefits to the climate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the policy, is reviewing the RFS and intends to announce potential changes to the program as soon as May.

“The RFS remains the nation’s most successful clean energy policy,” said Emily Skor, CEO of U.S. biofuel industry trade group Growth Energy, during a hearing on the RFS in front of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

“Let me be clear: there is no path to net-zero emissions by 2050 without biofuels,” Skor said.

Other biofuel advocates have argued the RFS is a crucial support to the nation's farmers and reduces the need for U.S. energy imprts.

President Biden has announced a goal of decarbonizing the nation’s economy by 2050 to combat climate change. While that plan is based in part on a transition from internal-combustion engines to electric vehicles, the administration is also considering how to tackle trucking and aviation, modes of transport that are much harder to electrify, and has expressed interest in biofuels filling that gap.

“As much as the Biden administration dreams of an all-electric world, the reality is liquid fuels are here to stay,” Senator Joni Ernst of corn-growing state Iowa said at the hearing.

While the U.S. government estimates that corn-based ethanol is about 40% less carbon intensive than gasoline, some researchers disagree.

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that ethanol is likely a much bigger contributor to global warming than straight gasoline, due to land use changes required to grow corn.

Activist group Taxpayers for Common Sense, in a letter to the committee, called the RFS a failed policy and a boondoggle for the corn industry.

Editing by David Holmes

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