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Rep. Welch, Sen. Udall Introduce Legislation to Mitigate Environmental Impacts of Renewable Fuel Standard

March 8, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced companion bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by mitigating harmful environmental impacts and advancing the next generation of biofuels.

The GREENER Fuels Act (Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible Fuels Act) is the first bill in Congress to reform the RFS.

On a press conference call this afternoon, Welch and Udall were joined by the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman; the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, Collin O'Mara; and the Director of the Sierra Club National Campaign, Debbie Sease.

The Welch/Udall bill would:

First, phase out the corn ethanol mandate and immediately reduce the amount of ethanol in fuel by as much as 1 billion gallons by capping the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 9.7 percent.

Second, help farmers return cornfields to pasture and wildlife habitat through a 10 cents per RIN fee to fund a new Private Land Protection and Restoration Fund in the U.S. Treasury. The fund will help pay for Department of Interior programs that:

-pay for easements on private lands to keep them out of agricultural production;

-keep the lands in conservation uses like grass, forest, stream buffers, or pollinator habitat and;

-help farmers transition land currently in crop production into other uses.

Third, extend the cellulosic next generation biofuel mandate until 2 billion gallons of annual production is achieved or 2037, whichever is soonest, and improve the way the mandate is implemented to produce liquid transportation fuels that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Despite its early promise, the RFS has been a well-intentioned flop that is harming our environment by contributing to the conversion of millions of acres of grasslands, wetlands and forests into crop production while failing to bring about the widespread use of truly sustainable fuels like cellulosic," said Welch. "Our commonsense legislation reforms the mandate to dramatically reduce its environmental impact and to support the continued growth of advanced biofuels.”

"I want to thank Representative Welch, former Chairman Waxman, and our partners with the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. The RFS was a well-intentioned idea that has delivered as intended for the conventional ethanol industry, which is now mature and well-established. But the promised environmental benefits have yet to be realized. In fact, the standard that was intended to benefit the environment may well be hurting it," Udall said. "Our bill is a forward-looking proposal, offering visionary reforms to put us on a cleaner and more sustainable path. The changes it would make represent a giant step forward to combat the urgent threat of climate change, cut pollution, and protect our planet for future generations.”

"I applaud Congressman Welch and Senator Udall for their leadership. It's time to admit that the Renewable Fuel Standard has done more harm than good and start supporting sensible fixes," Waxman said. "Like many of my colleagues, I supported the admirable environmental goals of the RFS when we created it 10 years ago. Now, it's clear that the RFS has been a net-negative for the environment. Not only has the RFS failed to spur significant development of truly advanced fuels, but conventional biofuels like corn ethanol and soy biodiesel are destroying wildlife habitat at home and abroad, polluting waterways, and increasing global warming pollution.”

"This critical legislation offers common-sense solutions that protect wildlife, drinking water, and public health, while supporting family farms and putting the nation on track to meet its clean fuel goals the right way," said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "We thank Rep. Welch and Sen. Udall for their tireless leadership working to reverse the massive grassland losses and growing algal blooms exacerbated by the ethanol mandate-while also moving America toward cleaner, more sustainable fuels. We urge the full House and Senate to pass these bills, before the impacts to America's wildlife and waterbodies become worse and more costly to solve.”

"The Sierra Club applauds Senator Udall, Congressman Welch, and all the members of Congress who are putting common sense first rather than continuing to permit a dirty and destructive policy to remain intact," said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "Instead of continuing to play political games with our environment and public health, these legislators are moving policies that will help undo the damage caused by the ethanol mandate. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately rather than continuing to push false theories about ethanol."

For a recording of the press conference call, click here.

For a copy of the legislation, click here and here.

For a section-by-section summary, click here.