Republican lawmakers from corn-producing states are hoping to get a vote on a pro-ethanol bill as soon as possible after striking a deal ahead of last week's failed repeal of the Obama administration's methane rule on oil and natural gas drillers.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who introduced the bipartisan ethanol bill, "received assurances" from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., "that there will be a hearing and a markup" on the bill, said Brianna Puccini, spokeswoman for Fischer.
Fischer's bill would eliminate an Environmental Protection Agency restriction on selling 15-percent ethanol blends during the summer. The bill would allow the fuel to be sold year around and thus expand its market.
The EPA had allowed the use of E15 in 2001 model year and newer vehicles, which the oil and gas industry has fought, arguing that the fuel would damage vehicle engines. But the ethanol industry says more new vehicles have engine warranties covering the use of the fuel and can run optimally on it. The oil industry counters that educating consumers on which model vehicles can and cannot use the fuel has been an ongoing problem.
Most of the U.S. gasoline supply includes 10 percent ethanol fuel blends as part of the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to blend higher percentages of biofuels into the nation's gasoline and diesel supplies through 2022.
However, Puccini said in an email that she wasn't sure on the "timing or the committee schedule." And Barrasso's office did not respond to repeated inquiries about the committee's schedule.
The Senate environment committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the future of the transportation system, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao testifying. It's possible that the E15 bill could be discussed, but the focus of the hearing will be on President Trump's infrastructure priorities, according to a spokesman.
Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, a top group representing the ethanol industry, said he expects the bill to be marked up in committee before the August congressional recess.
"The [group] is always supportive of a legislative resolution and we do support the Fischer bill," Dinneen said.
Fischer, joined by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., introduced the bill earlier this month and worked out a deal with Barrasso to secure a vote on it.
The deal hinged on last week's failed vote to repeal the Obama administration's Interior Department regulations for limiting methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling wells on federal lands, with more Republicans than expected opposing the measure. But proponents of the deal are adamant that the promise to take up the ethanol bill is still intact.
Poet, the nation's largest ethanol company, began running an advertising campaign on Sunday emphasizing the benefits of ethanol to U.S. energy security amid a lobbying push to move the E15 bill to a vote sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, the Renewable Fuels Association sent comments to EPA on Monday in response to one of Trump's executive orders on identifying burdensome regulations.
"While there are a number of EPA regulations that need reforming, the most pressing is the agency-imposed restriction that denies consumers year-round access to E15," the comments said.