Impasse over RFS Underscores Need for Biofuel Value Chain and Partner Unity

Federal regulators have stumbled again in following the congressionally approved roadmap for expanding and accelerating biofuel development and use, announcing Friday they will not finalize 2014 blending requirements under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) until sometime next year.

Some in the sector see the delay as a victory – a sign EPA has abandoned proposals issued in November 2013 that would have drastically cut blending levels well below those called for in the 2007 federal law establishing the RFS. However, we have no assurance that agency administrators know just what they plan to do with, or what direction they want to drive the 2014 required volume obligations (RVOs) next year.

EPA’s decision Friday not to act on the 2014 RVOs (they were originally due last January) would seem to be the latest demonstration that the agency simply has no clue how to comply with congressionally established deadlines for setting annual blending requirements.

The delay compounds difficulties already being experienced by the sector – mass confusion and additional policy uncertainly across the biofuel value chain, as well as further chilling of investments in advanced biofuels development. And it leaves a disappointing gap in what had been a forward-moving – if not always smooth process of establishing biofuels as a substantive, domestically grown source of transportation fuel that offers wide economic, environmental and security benefits.

Speculation over why EPA has struck an impasse is widespread and points the finger of fault in many directions. One specific likely outcome emanating from EPA’s announcement Friday will be a plethora of lawsuits, including challenges from fuel blenders who have long sought to kill the RFS, and advanced biofuel developers who see EPA’s non-action as a threat to the billions of dollars already invested in bringing the next generation of alternative fuels to the market.

With the growing chaos that can be expected from what’s happened in recent days, it is important for those in the biofuel value chain and their many partners to engage in a little introspection. The need to come together and lay out a plan to make the RFS successful has never been more important.

There remains a need for biofuel proponents to align around a common framework plan, including new demand drivers; as well as reach a consensus on other actions that can and should be taken to drive further biofuel development. That consensus is needed before biofuel supporters in the Obama administration, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, can advocate forcefully within the administration for needed reforms.

25x’25 stands ready to help bring together not just biofuel producers, but all members of the biofuel value chain and facilitate a discussion that can result in an honest assessment of the sector’s collective position. Through this process the parties can re-examine the policies and programs which need to come into alignment to achieve biofuel stakeholder goals. While policy measures like the RFS, which drive biofuel production, are critically important, so too are the vehicles that consume them and the infrastructure required to get biofuels into the fuel tank. Only by coming together and fashioning and refining a comprehensive strategy, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, can the biofuel community overcome the fragmentation and lack of unified direction that is contributing to the current impasse over these clean-burning fuels.

Furthermore, a unified biofuel sector will be necessary to insure the success of another suggested initiative – a high-level intergovernmental work group convened by the White House to conduct a strategic review of the myriad of issues surrounding biofuel development. Advocated by the Energy Future Coalition since last summer, the work group can chart a path forward that enables the full range of benefits from biofuel production and use to be realized.

It is critical that the biofuel community and its supporters tell federal policy makers, whether it’s through an intergovernmental work group or directly to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, exactly what’s needed to produce the outcomes and benefits the community needs. But that message must be delivered with a unified voice. 25x’25 stands ready to work with the sector to help it articulate and effectively communicate a clear, cogent and sensible strategic plan for biofuel development in the United States.

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