The oil industry apparently is taking its fight against the Renewable Fuel Standard to what might seem an odd place: Iowa.
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association is complaining that an oil industry trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, has launched automated telephone calls to Iowans, claiming renewable fuels are responsible for pushing up food prices and damaging car engines.
"Iowans know better. The facts are clear, renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support American jobs, increase energy security and revitalize rural America," Grant Menka, policy director for the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said in response.
The controversy arises as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comment on a proposal to reduce the amount of renewable fuels that must be blended into the nation's fuel supply in 2014.
The EPA has proposed lowering the amount to 15 billion gallons, down from the 18 billion gallons that the law calls for.
The agency says current and projected demand for gasoline is lower now than when Congress last revised the law, in 2007.
Ethanol supporters have objected to the proposal, and Midwest state lawmakers and the industry are busy trying to pressure the Obama administration to reverse itself.
Ethanol officials say the automated calls appear to be aimed at generating critical comments to the EPA from a state that might be expected to support renewable fuels.
A partial recording of one of the calls, provided by the renewable fuels association, featured a voice offering to send a letter to the EPA on behalf of the person getting the call.
Officials at the American Petroleum Institute have not responded to a request for comment.
The EPA is taking comments through Jan. 28, and a final rule is not expected until later this year.
Meanwhile, area lawmakers said this week they met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to protest the lower standard.
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U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack, Bruce Braley, both Iowa Democrats, and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., along with two dozen other lawmakers met with McCarthy on Wednesday.
They argued the proposal would have a devastating effect on their local economies.
"The EPA must not continue to yield to the requests of Big Oil and ignore the impact on Iowa’s farmers, rural communities and economy," Loebsack said. "This proposed cut threatens thousands of jobs in Iowa, and I will not stop fighting in opposition to this misguided policy."
Bustos said on the House floor that the proposal defies common sense.
"The administration's proposal doesn't even maintain the status quo," she said. "It moves us backward, and I find that unacceptable."