Ernst questions CEQ nominee on RFS, year-round E15 sales

By Erin Voegele | July 23, 2018

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, questioned Council on Environmental Quality nominee Bridget Neumayr on her support for the Renewable Fuel Standard and E15 during a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing July 19.

President Trump announced his nomination of Neumayr to chair the CEQ in June. The CEQ is a division of the executive office of the president. It oversees implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, primarily through issuing guidance and interpreting regulations that implement NEPA’s procedural requirements. The CEQ also develops and recommends national policies that promote the improvement of environmental quality.

During the hearing, Ernst stressed that the RFS is critical to America’s farmers. “In In 2016 and 2017 we’ve learned that the EPA under former administrator Scott Pruitt’s leadership granted 48 small refinery hardship exemptions of the 53 petitions that had been summited to the agency,” she said. “These waivers effectively reduced the 2016 and 2017 renewable volume obligations by a combined 2.25 billion gallons of biofuels, which has significantly weakened the demand for biofuels. It’s put thousands of our jobs in jeopardy and truly undermined congressional intent of the law.

“Do you believe the RFS should be implemented in a manner consistent with the original intent of Congress and, if confirmed, would you support the spirit and the letter of the law?” Ernst asked Neumayr.

In response, Neumayr committed to supporting the letter and intent of the RFS statute. “Senator, I know that this is a very important issue and this is an issue that has been a topic of discussion among senior administration officials and this body,” Neumayr said. “It is a standard that is implemented by the EPA in consultation with UDSA and the Department of Energy, but I can commit that if confirmed I will seek to support its implementation consistent with the letter and intent of the law.”

Ernst also asked Neumayr what role she believes the CEQ would play in the EPA’s administration of the Clean Air Act, specifically the RFS. “Well, this is a statutory program, and it’s a program that is administered by the EPA, but CEQ, I believe, can play a supporting role in seeking its support both EPA and the agencies in which it consults as they implement the statute,” Neumayr said.

In addition, Ernst asked if Neumayr she plans to engage with all stakeholders, including the biofuels industry and agricultural communities, as part of her role in the CEQ, if confirmed. “Yes, I anticipate that we would be, and I do think that it’s important that all stakeholders are heard from and that we act on full information,” she responded.

Finally, Ernst pressed Neumayr on the issue of year-round E15 sales.  “As you know, E15 is a federally approved blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent regular gasoline,” Ernst said. “Fuel retailers across the country want to offer E15 year round and these retailers have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure to help make this possible. However, we do have an outdated Reid vapor pressure regulation which is blocking them from offering E15 during the summer months, which would be June 1 through Sept. 15. The year-round sale of higher ethanol blends like E15 would provide benefits not only to farmers, but also to consumers and our environment. Earlier this year President Trump called the restriction unnecessary and ridiculous and he committed to fixing it by expanding the RVP waiver to higher ethanol blends.”

If confirmed, Ernst asked if Neumayr will support the president’s commitment to E15.

“As I said earlier, I understand there have been discussions among senior officials including the president and including members of this body on aspects of the program, including this issue,” Neumayr said. “I’ve not participated in those discussions, but if confirmed I commit that I will seek to support the implementation of the law consistent with Congress’s directives and consistent with the president’s commitments.”