At long last, EPA sends its Renewable Fuel Standard targets

As summer comes to a close, the Obama administration is inching ahead on the ethanol mandate of great importance to Iowa, while it’s unclear whether other issues such as renewal of the production tax credit for wind energy, reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank or border legislation will gain any traction in Congress this fall.

At long last, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a couple of weeks ago sent its Renewable Fuel Standard targets for 2014 to the White House for final review.

The RFI targets will have a huge impact on the market for corn-based ethanol and other biofuels.

Ethanol supporters and opponents alike have been waging an intense lobbying and advertising campaign in a bid to sway the results.

EPA initially proposed scaling back the mandate for conventional biofuels, such as ethanol, from 13.8 million gallons in 2013 to 13 million gallons in future years, according to the independent trade publication Inside EPA.

Gov. Terry Branstad said the proposal has already damaged Iowa’s economy, regardless of the final decision on volumes.

“Farmers aren’t buying equipment and John Deere is laying people off,” Branstad said last month, according to USA Today. “What EPA has done is not only damage farm income but cost us jobs in farm machinery and manufacturing.”

But Inside EPA quoted industry representatives as saying they expect the final rule to mandate 13.5-to-13.6 million gallons, citing recent conversations between business sources and EPA officials.

An EPA spokeswoman issued a statement that at least sounds promising to the ethanol industry: “EPA supports the energy independence and security goals that Congress envisioned when establishing the RFS program. The Agency’s overarching goal is to put the RFS program on a path that supports continued growth in renewable fuels over time.”

The Office of Management and Budget review of the EPA proposal could take anywhere from weeks to months. But it’s a good bet this proposal has already been vetted by the political types in the White House and will be issued at the most politically advantageous moment.

On Capitol Hill, Congress returns Monday for a short pre-election session with a handful of legislative days on the calendar and a growing list of pressing issues to address.

Odds are, lawmakers won’t get there, this month, when it comes to acting on most issues of importance to voters in Iowa and throughout the country.

The House is scheduled to vote on GOP-crafted energy, jobs and Obamacare bills, according to the new majority leader, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.

Those are all “message bills” designed to showcase Republican positions prior to the election. There’s no expectation they will be signed into law.

Congress also must pass a short-term funding resolution this month, so lawmakers can go home to campaign for re-election and return in November to, hopefully, pass a real spending package for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Rep. Steve King, Republican of Kiron, is predicting another showdown over a shutdown if President Obama acts unilaterally on border and immigration issues in the coming weeks.

But the White House may be holding back on any controversial executive actions on immigration until after the elections, according to recent reports, or perhaps just until Congress gets out of town.

It seems unlikely that Congress will be able to pass any kind of short-term fix to address the surge of children crossing the border over the past year.

On other issues, the wind tax credit is still in limbo and it remains to be seen whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will try again to bring a package of so-called tax extenders to the floor.

That tax package was buried in a partisan dispute over Senate floor procedure and may not emerge again until November.

In the meantime, expect to see a lot more speeches and headlines about Burger King’s corporate relocation to Canada than about the country’s energy tax policy.

The deadline for renewing the Export-Import Bank is rapidly approaching, but it remains to be seen whether House Republicans will act before Sept. 30.

McCarthy, the new leader, has said he’s willing to allow the bank’s charter expire this month.

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