It's Not a Sprint: Achieving Biofuel Goals Requires the Effort of a Marathon

EPA’s release this week of the latest rule governing vehicle emissions and fuel standards is a reminder that while regulations can raise the profile of biofuels, there are no “silver” policy bullets that absolutely assure the growth of biofuels to their full capability.

The so-called “Tier 3” rule actually drew a mixed reaction from the biofuel industry, with some saying the rule’s new requirement that vehicles be tested and certified using E10 is a positive step forward. Others viewed the rule as yet another major roadblock to future growth in biofuel production and use. In reality, the Tier 3 rule is simply a single component in a wide array of strategies that must be linked and harmonized if the full potential and benefits of biofuel production and use are to be realized.

Clearly, the rule has shortcomings which need to be addressed. For example, while the rule provides an opportunity for manufacturers to request approval of other new certification fuels, such as high octane/high ethanol E30, auto manufacturers can only do so if they can demonstrate that these fuels are commercially available. This will never happen of course as fuel producers won’t scale up production until they are assured that the engines of tomorrow which could be designed for high-octane mid-blend fuels are available. To break this ongoing chicken and egg conundrum, EPA must abandon its focus on matching certification fuels and field fuels.

Similar cautions against relying on a single policy mechanism to fully realize biofuel’s contribution to our national energy policy have to be exercised when considering the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. While the RFS is a critical policy tool in the expansion of the biofuels industry and EPA’s proposed biofuel blending requirements for 2014 should be rejected in favor of congressionally established targets, the standard is not the only instrument that must be enhanced to insure the success of clean, domestically grown alternative fuels.

For the United States to fully meet the goals of a biofuels industry that maximize its contributions to the economy, enhance national security and improve the environment, there needs to be an across-the-board alignment of policies that not only boosts the production and use of biofuels, but increases the number of vehicles capable of operating on higher blend biofuels and builds out the infrastructure that can deliver these new, cheaper and cleaner alternative fuels.

On the infrastructure front, the new farm bill specifically precludes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from using Rural Energy for America Program funds for the installation of blender pumps that can dispense multiple forms of biofuels. But Vilsack recently told an ethanol producers group that his department can still use various other rural loan and grant programs to fund infrastructure improvements, such as value-added producer grants. The Secretary is right on this point and we applaud him for his unwavering support of biofuels.

In spite of the continuing policy roadblocks, the next generation of biofuels is virtually here. POET-DSM, DuPont and Abengoa are set to open cellulosic ethanol production facilities in Iowa and Kansas this year, kicking off what will be a wave of new advanced biofuel production capacity over the next several years.

Meanwhile, events around the world – the political conflict between Ukraine and Russia, for example – and the energy market insecurities they create continue to demonstrate the need to stay the course and develop a steady supply of homegrown fuels.

Chris Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, recently told the National Ethanol Conference that despite stakeholder reaction to the agency’s RFS proposal, EPA and the Obama administration support the biofuels industry. He said cleaner burning renewable fuels with fewer emissions will be a major tool used to counter the effects of a changing climate. “We know that if we’re going to achieve what science is telling us what we must achieve in terms of greenhouse gas reduction,” he said, “biofuels have got to be part of that solution set.”

The 25x’25 Alliance urges stakeholders to remember that reaching the goals that will make biofuels a permanent fixture in the national energy strategy will require the stamina of a marathon, not the “quick-fix” of a sprint. Bear down and continue the grassroots efforts to make policy makers at all levels understand the importance of biofuels to our nation; improvements to our economy, our security and our environment will follow.

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