Time to Influence Climate Legislation

By Bob Dinneen | August 10, 2009
In just eight short months, the financial crisis that threatened to cripple the nation has been replaced in the spotlight by health care reform and climate change legislation.

Congress is poised to pass climate change legislation this year. However, as is often the case, the devil is in the details — and the details of climate change legislation have yet to be written.

The legislation that passed the U.S. House and is being negotiated in the U.S. Senate has the potential to greatly influence how America's ethanol industry grows in the future. As I write this column, Congress is preparing for its August recess. The House has already passed its version of climate change legislation and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the lead author of the Senate version, has promised a bill sometime during the first full week of September. While the final details of Boxer's proposal are not yet known, we do have a sense of what is being discussed. Thanks to the leadership of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), agriculture and biofuels were given the fair treatment they deserve in climate change discussions. The House bill calls for a necessary time-out from the U.S. EPA's inclusion of international indirect land use change (ILUC) calculations in its greenhouse gas profile for ethanol and requires five years of desperately needed additional scientific research. The notion of ILUC is so complex and lacking consensus that implementing such a penalty against biofuels alone is putting the policy cart in front of the scientific horse.

While the bill in the Senate is far from complete, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has pledged to include all of the language included by Peterson and expand upon it if possible. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recognizes the importance of this issue and has instructed Boxer to include Harkin and other members of the Ag Committee in crafting the bill.

Members of Congress from agricultural and rural areas are unified in their support of common sense policies and preventing distortion of this legislation at the expense of rural America. But the bill is a long way from the finish line. A final Senate version is still needed and a conference committee to reconcile differences in the bill is likely to be contentious. In addition, a coalition of well-funded and determined groups has organized to stop any policies they see as beneficial to ethanol. Big Oil, giant food processors and environmental groups are united to maintain the status quo at all costs.

The complex and confusing nature of this bill and its march through Congress underscores the importance of vigilance and awareness of the legislative vehicles moving through all levels of government that will influence the future of this industry.

The RFA will continue to engage with legislators' offices on a daily basis. We will ensure that those crafting the legislation are aware of the facts and pitfalls that an overreaching and not-ready-for-prime-time policy present. And we will be sure that you have all the information you need to be effective advocates for this industry.

Bob Dinneen
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association