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U.S. Sen. Toomey again aims to eliminate corn ethanol mandates

| Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, 10:27 p.m.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey visits the Tribune-Review's Pittsburgh office to speak with the news staff on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and a Democratic colleague are trying again to eliminate corn ethanol mandates from a federal program that boosts the use of renewable fuels.

Toomey and Sen. Diane Feinstein of California want to attach the amendment to a sweeping energy bill that is scheduled to be debated this week on the Senate floor. Lawmakers have proposed more than 150 amendments to the larger energy bill, Bloomberg News reported.

“It's one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare, where taxpayers and consumers are required to subsidize the income of a handful of people who are in the business of producing ethanol,” Toomey said during a meeting with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires that a certain volume of transportation fuel sold in the United States must contain renewable fuels such as corn ethanol. The volume increases annually.

“It makes driving your car more expensive, it makes our food prices considerably more expensive, and it is actually harmful to the environment,” Toomey said.

In announcing a similar measure last year, Toomey and Feinstein said 40 percent of corn was being used to produce ethanol. They cited a Congressional Budget Office report predicting that as the federal program requires more renewable fuels to be used, increased demand for corn would drive up prices for corn and foods that are produced with it, ultimately by as much as $3.5 billion a year.

Gary Lyons, operations manager at Pennsylvania Grain Processing LLC in Clearfield, the state's only ethanol manufacturing plant, disputed Toomey's claims and said the plant does not receive any government subsidies. He said the plant makes 360,000 gallons of ethanol a day using 120,000 bushels of corn from 600 farms, many of them in Pennsylvania. After it uses the white corn starch in each kernel of corn, the rest “is funneled back into the food chain for livestock feed,” Lyons said, noting it helps feed 22 million chickens a day.

Also Monday, Toomey said he felt “very good about where my campaign stands” in his Senate race, noting he ended last year with nearly $10 million in cash. Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination to challenge Toomey: former congressman Joe Sestak, former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

“I think we're in a strong position. However, I'm also very well aware that if I'm in the strongest possible position, I'm still in for a very tough race,” Toomey said, noting Pennsylvania has backed the Democratic presidential candidate in each of the past six elections. “If that happens again, that means I'm going to need ticket-splitters who are going to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee and for me.”

Toomey declined to evaluate the three Democrats vying to run against him or to endorse a Republican in the party's crowded presidential race.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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