When you hear about fast food chains lobbying on Capitol Hill, you probably assume that whatever their cause is, it probably doesn’t have much to do with you. This is not one of those times.
Fast food chain, Wendy’s, along with White Castle, headed to Washington, D.C. recently to put their stake in the ground regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS program was created in 2005 under the Energy Policy Act, and established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States.
The chain restaurants, who partnered with their industry’s trade association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR), don’t agree with the RFS mandate, and lobbied to repeal it. The group contends that fuel manufactured from corn, soy, and other agricultural crops pushes food and commodity prices up. In addition, if left unchanged, the RFS will cost chain restaurant operators up to $3.2 billion each year the mandate remains in effect. These costs are then passed along the supply chain, impacting farmers and franchise owners, and are eventually transferred to diners and consumers nationwide. In addition to lobbying against the RFS, the group also supports the bipartisan RFS Reform Act, which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, among other measures.
On Capitol Hill, the group introduced their initiative, aptly named Feed Food Fairness: Take RFS Off the Menu, with a press conference where White Castle president, Lisa Ingram, and Wendy’s franchise owner, Mark Behm, were joined by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Also in attendance were Robert J. Green, executive director of the NCCR, and cattle producer, Steve Foglesong, the former chair of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who lasered in on the issue when he remarked, “Cattlemen and women are not opposed to renewable fuels, but are seeking a level playing field to compete for a bushel of corn.”
The opponents of the RFS view the mandate as posing a triple threat by impacting the environment, food price inflation, and chain restaurants. During a hearing held earlier this month by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, blamed the RFS for an increase in food prices and a decrease in food sector job creation. Other opponents of the RFS include the state of Florida, where Governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill into law that repeals the state’s Renewable Fuel Standard as of July 1, 2013.
It’s expected that the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday will impact the chain restaurant industry’s future lobbying efforts to repeal the RFS. The Court sided with ethanol fuel (primarily sourced from corn) and ruled to block the oil and gas industry’s challenge to a high-ethanol blend of gasoline. Other groups that share concerns about fuel made from ethanol are: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Each of them petitioned the Supreme Court to consider whether enough testing was conducted by the EPA before they permitted the sale of E15, which is a blend of gasoline that contains up to 15 percent ethanol. In August 2012, a lower court said that those groups lacked standing to challenge the EPA decision.
As the Supreme Court hands down landmark rulings this week, it’s hard to predict the fate of the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act or the effort to repeal it. It seems clear that neither initiative will be easily resolved, but President Obama’s plan to fight climate change, which he unveiled Tuesday, will likely play a role in the future status of renewable fuels.