Bills introduced in both the Senate and House last week would allow individual states to exercise the option to be excluded from the federal government’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for ethanol.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) sponsored the Senate legislation called “The Fuel Feedstock Freedom Act.”  The bill would amend the Clean Air Act that regulates fuels and additives.  In the House, Representative Brian Bilbray (R-CA) introduced the companion bill.  Bilbray has four co-sponsors on his bill, including Dan Boren (D-OK), Jim Moran (D-VA), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and Darrell Issa (R-CA).  Several of the Congressmen cited rising food prices as their reason for supporting the bill.

“This bi-partisan bill will allow states to get out from under a crushing federal mandate that pollutes our environment and picks our pockets at the gas pump and grocery store,” Bilbray said in a statement.

Under the bills, states would be required to pass legislation that specifically addresses the choice of not participating in the corn-based portion of the RFS program.  The non-participation by a state would not affect any of the volumetric requirements for advanced fuels.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) then would be required to lower the national renewable fuel requirements for corn-based ethanol by a percentage equal to that state’s share of national gasoline consumption.  Under the Energy Independence and Security Act, the U.S. motor fuel supply is required to include 36 billion gallons of ethanol or other renewable fuels by 2022.  The required amount for 2011 is 13.95 billion gallons of renewable fuels.

The bills also would expand the definition of acceptable renewable fuels by replacing the term “cellulosic biofuel” in the Clean Air Act with “next generation biofuels.”  According to the bill’s sponsors, that provision would encourage production of biofuels derived from algae or renewable biomass.  It would not alter either the volume of biofuels to be produced or their environmental performance requirements.  In the Senate, the bill has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee, and in the House, the bill has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

A coalition of ethanol supporters, including the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Advanced Ethanol Council, the Advanced Biofuels Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, urged Congress to leave the RFS as it stands. “We urge Congress to stand firm in the face of calls to waiver or repeal the groundbreaking biofuels in the EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007), including the RFS,” the coalition said.

EPA announced in January that it was granting a partial waiver to the RFS to increase ethanol in gasoline up to 15 percent for use in model year 2001-2006 cars and light trucks.  At the same time EPA said it would keep the 10-percent ethanol limit, in place since 1979, for pre-2001 vehicles.