U.S. Sen. Hutchison proposes bill to freeze ethanol mandate

By Kris Bevill | May 09, 2008
Web exclusive posted May 21, 2008 at 3:30 p.m. CST

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, filed legislation May 19 to freeze the corn-based ethanol mandate at the current level of 9 billion gallons.

In a statement released by Hutchison, she said the corn-based ethanol mandate is the reason for rising food prices. "Freezing the mandate is in the best interests of consumers, who cannot afford the increasing prices at the grocery store due to the mandate diverting corn from food to fuel," Hutchinson said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, reiterated his opposing view in response to Hutchison's proposed legislation. "Despite what some may lead us to believe, ethanol is not the culprit for all the world's food and energy problems," he said. "Study after study shows that corn prices have little to do with the rising food costs. In fact, if it weren't for ethanol, Iowans would pay 10 to 15 cents more per gallon of gas. A few nickels may not be much to these senators, but I guarantee it's a lot to many families across America. A freeze in the renewable fuels standard will just drive up the cost of energy - which is the real reason for high food prices."

Hutchison's bill was co-sponsored by 10 Republican senators including John McCain, R-Ariz, John Coryn,R-Texas, Wayne Allard, R-Colo.,John Barasso, R-Wyo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and John Sununu, R-N.H.

Hutchison was also behind the May 2 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, signed by 24 senators, urging him to reconsider the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and requesting a status report on the rule-making process for a waiver of the mandate.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry requested a partial waiver of the RFS for the state of Texas in late April. The EPA is currently conducting a 30-day commentary period, after which it will evaluate and respond within 90 days of receiving the request.

Matt Mackowiak, communications spokesman for Hutchison, said she submitted legislation because she does not want to wait for a decision by the EPA regarding the federal ethanol mandate. "The mandate is something that Congress can deal with and she believes it's a reasonable, appropriate action for Congress to take now," he said. It was unclear what the next step will be for Hutchison's proposed legislation. According to Mackowiak, it might require a committee hearing or be offered as an amendment to another piece of legislation. "At this point, she's weighing her options," Mackowiak said.

A simple majority vote is needed to pass any legislation, which could be up to 60 votes in the Senate.

Hutchison would prefer more domestic oil drilling to ethanol production as a way to lower gas prices, according to Mackowiak. Several Republican senators, including Hutchison, introduced the American Energy Production Act two weeks ago which includes proposals to begin oil drilling in ANWAR and the Outer Continental shelf as well as offering incentives for new refinery construction and expansion.