AFTER a House hearing in July focused on adjusting the renewable fuel standard (RFS), the need for a workable path forward became clear, and at the forefront of those discussions will be Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.).
The main focus of the hearing looked at whether the federal RFS is saving the environment and reducing America's foreign oil imports or if it is a giveaway to ethanol producers and forces food prices higher.
Support for the RFS has been deeply divided between crop and ethanol producers and oil and livestock producers, but there isn't a clear consensus within the Republican Party on how to deal with the slow advancement of the cellulosic ethanol market, lower gasoline usage and foot-dragging by the oil industry on blending higher amounts of ethanol.
Shimkus' district has five ethanol plants and two oil refineries, requiring him to please both camps. In the hearing, he noted that there has to be a middle ground.
House Energy & Commerce Committee chair Fred Upton (R., Mich.) selected four Republican members to form a taskforce to explore possible ways to reform the RFS. Besides Shimkus, the other three are Reps. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), Lee Terry (R., Neb.) and Steve Scalise (R., La.).
Steve Tomaszewski, press secretary for Shimkus, said right now, there is no single direction the group is moving toward, but Shimkus "has stated that everybody has to move a little. Each needs to bring us some ideas from different perspectives; otherwise, it will get forced down on you."
It's clear that the House doesn't have the votes for a full repeal of the RFS. During the hearing, Shimkus went after oil industry executives as well as renewable fuel industry lobbyists to lay out workable solutions. However, each quickly redirected their talking points instead of looking at the issue objectively.
"If you keep these positions, nothing is going to get done, and nobody is going to be happy," Shimkus warned the four executives of the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Renewable Fuels Assn. and Advanced Biofuels Assn.
While the witnesses hedged initially, they eventually agreed to work with the committee on a new package of RFS amendments.
The challenge for Shimkus is not only to find a sweet spot between the deeply divided camps but also to help educate his Republican colleagues about the mandate. Half of the members in office now weren't in Congress in 2005 and 2007, when the RFS was first passed and then revised.
Interest groups on both sides of the issue have remained firmly entrenched in their positions, making it even more difficult to find a middle ground.
The House is more open to the idea of changing the RFS through the legislative process. However, the Senate will be taking a closer look at the rule soon.
The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee reported that it will hold a hearing on the RFS this fall. Some Democrats on the panel, such as Sens. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) and Tom Carper (D., Del.), have expressed concern about the increased ethanol targets under the RFS.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), in a radio interview last week, noted that support for the RFS is "weak in the House and weakening in the Senate." He added that the President and the Senate likely have enough support to fight off any attempts to change the RFS.