A national clean transportation fuel standard should include enough flexibility to allow for biofuels and other non-electric vehicle solutions, bipartisan members of a U.S. Senate panel said Wednesday.
The United States does not have a national standard on clean fuels, although senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee have hinted that one may be in the works.
Members of both sides said such a standard, if properly structured, could offer a myriad of benefits by encouraging low-carbon energy sources such as ethanol and hydrogen to power cars and trucks. Republicans, however, were far more qualified in their expectations.
President Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, said a transition away from gasoline was key to meeting climate goals.
“When people ask me why we focus on reducing emissions from transportation, I say that’s where a lot of the emissions come from,” Carper said.
The transportation sector accounts for more than a quarter of all US greenhouse gas emissions.
Oregon, California praised
Carper praised renewable fuel standards in Oregon and California for promoting low-carbon vehicles, creating jobs and providing certainty to industry.
He said those standards improved the US Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable fuel standard by including hydrogen as a clean energy.
Some Republicans on the panel, including senior member Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, expressed concerns about how federal clean fuel standards would be formulated and enforced.
“I’m very concerned about the idea of empowering bureaucrats to decide which fuel sources qualify, how and what the associated elimination steps may be,” Capito said.
“We have observed the back-and-forth of administrations on both sides on the execution of regulatory programs that impact American energy prices, with experience revealing that heavy-handed regulatory approaches inevitably lead to reduced supplies and higher prices.” .
Capito added that he has “nothing against” EVs, but thought some policies, including the EPA’s clean fuel standard and California’s mandate to achieve 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035, gave that industry too many breaks.
The emphasis on electric vehicles, which are far more expensive than gas-powered ones, hasn’t considered that many people can’t afford them, Capito said.
The committee heard from a panel of three witnesses representing the hydrogen energy, ethanol and trucking industries. All agreed that fuel standards should be neutral about what technology is used to reduce emissions, a view widely endorsed by Senators.
“There is more we can and must do to support cleaner fuels for the vehicles on our roads and provide more certainty and flexibility for those who produce these fuels,” Carper said.
Questioned by Oregon’s Democratic United States Senator Jeff Merkley, Geoff Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri-based national ethanol trading group, the Renewable Fuels Association, called the Oregon standard a model for the rest of the country due to the flexibility it offers.
Oregon’s “life cycle analysis,” a method of examining a fuel’s carbon footprint that takes into account the carbon cost of producing the fuel and using it, has also been helpful and transparent, he said. .
“When we think of a low-carbon fuel standard done right, we point to Oregon,” Cooper said.
But Chris Spear, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, the federal coalition of state advocacy groups, told the panel that the trucking industry had an interest in a transition to cleaner fuels, but that both industry standards Oregon that those in California were too aggressive.
“We’ll get there,” Spear said. “It will just take a little longer than some states are providing.”
US Senator Pete Ricketts, a Republican from Nebraska who joined the Senate this year after serving as the state governor for eight years, said fuel ethanol derived from corn should be considered as part of any national clean fuel standard.
“Ethanol saves consumers money at the pump, will help clean up the environment and create jobs here in America,” he said. “Ethanol needs to be at the heart of any discussions we have about the future of transportation fuels.”
Ricketts said he fears the federal government is prioritizing electric vehicles over ethanol.
Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, who also chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has also promoted ethanol, saying “biofuel production drives prices down at the pump.” The price of E-15, a 15% ethanol blend, was up to $1 a gallon lower than conventional gasoline in some areas last summer, she said.
Carper and Wyoming Republican Cynthia Lummis agreed that changes to the way federal agencies provide environmental permits were necessary to meet clean energy goals.
It took a wind power developer in his state 10 years to get some of the approvals needed to build transmission lines for a major new wind power plant, he said.
“Without enabling reform, we don’t stand a chance,” Lummis said. “So I think even for people who aspire to President Biden’s goal, that should become a priority.”
Carper said he expects President Joe Biden to renew efforts to update permitting standards soon after a proposal by Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, failed last year.
“It’s okay that we have a lot of promising ways to create electricity without making our carbon situation worse here in this country,” Carper said.