WASHINGTON (CN) — With much of the attention of Capitol Hill focused elsewhere Tuesday, a House committee was told the federal renewable fuel standard was short-sighted and more can be achieved by promoting innovative approaches to carbon capture and other technologies.
The battle lines were clear as the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened to discuss the future of federal funding for biofuel research and the fate of the renewable fuel standard.
Republican committee members dismissed the renewable fuel standard, a requirement mandating that all transportation fuel sold in the U.S. contain a set percentage of biofuel, as a burden and waste of time and taxpayer’s money.
Democrats, in contrast, argued for more investment in renewable energy and cautioned their opponents not to be too short sighted about the prospects of renewable investment as the world faces more negative impacts of global climate change.
“The issue we’re discussing isn’t cut and dry,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D – Texas, “Some are willing to forgo any government role in promoting the development of renewable fuel and ignore the progress we’ve made … [That progress] would not have been possible without a substantial investment made in first generation renewable fuels driven by [the standard].”
Johnson admitted there are challenges associated with the production of corn ethanol that require closer examination, but she told her fellow lawmakers on Tuesday that corn ethanol’s greatest success was its ability to create “a bridge to a cleaner future.”
The Texas democrat warned such strides should be considered before the House approves drastic cuts to research and development funding.
If the Trump administration’s budget for 2018 is enacted, the Department of Energy would see funding for its research centers cut by 60 percent, while its Energy Technology Office is slated to be slashed by 72 percent.
“This has been proposed with little justification provided, beyond a vague declaration that the department is shifting its focus to ‘early stage research’,” she added.
Dr. John DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, said the fuel standard failed to take “feedstock production” into consideration.
“The basic fact is that all biofuel production, by volume, is based on feedstocks, or crops, corn and soy beans which must be harvested from existing land,” DeCicco said. “That’s part of the criteria to qualify under RSF. It’s well intended but just because we remove nearly 30 percent of our corn from the food market to make fuel doesn’t mean that the country has consumed 30 percent less. It has to get made up somewhere.”
“The use of biofuels does not displace petroleum fuels. You reduce petroleum demand, that’s true, but that has a slight marginally depressing effect on price of petroleum which induces greater petroleum consumption elsewhere,” he added.
Instead of enforcing one-sided renewable fuel standards, DeCicco said it would be better to promote innovation.
Rep. Neal Dunn, R.- Fla., said about 4.5 million wooded acres in his state are currently being cultivated for paper production.
He asked the DeCicco to explain how innovation would be more beneficial than regulation to his state.
“Paper manufacturers generate energy from biomass. But to power these pulp and paper mills and get then closer carbon neutral, what can we do? What have you studied?” Dunn asked.
DeCicco said the answer to those questions lay at the end of the paper production process.
“Pulp and paper are byproducts that might otherwise be dumped and then just decay … but by taking decaying things and using them to make energy instead of natural gas or some other fossil fuel, you have essentially reduced emissions by reducing the emissions of decay,” DeCicco said. “You don’t change what comes out when you burn it, but you avoid emissions from those waste products. This is a beneficial bioenergy process.”