Concerns over the future of biofuels in a future national energy strategy were aired before some pretty influential parties this week, as stakeholders ratchet up their defense of a federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that has promoted the development of clean alternative fuels and the benefits that come with them.
A team of 25x’25 value chain partners, including representatives of feedstock, equipment, conservation, farm and energy groups, met Wednesday with Janet McCabe, Acting EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, to outline their concerns over the agency’s proposal to reduce biofuel blending requirements this year under the RFS.
Leaders of the advanced biofuels industry testified Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture Committee, reminding lawmakers of the jobs that are being created and the savings coming to consumers at the gas pump as the market for cellulosic ethanol sets to take off.
In both venues, regulators and policy makers were reminded of the clear economic, environmental, national security and human health benefits of biofuels, and that to lower the RFS requirement – or, as the oil industry and their allies in Congress would have it, repeal the standard – will blunt the full potential of this domestically produced, stably priced alternative energy source.
McCabe was told of emerging conversion technologies that will allow the significant amount of biomass feedstocks available in the United States to produce as much as 80-100 billion gallons annually, with much of that supply produced on marginal or underutilized land.
She was told that a reduction in the amount of biofuels to be blended into the nation’s transportation fuel supply will reduce farm income and, by extension, money that would otherwise be spent for important land conservation measures and the environmental benefits they generate.
The EPA official was reminded that biofuels play an important part in the Obama administration’s strategy to address climate change, noting the recent lifecycle analysis by researchers at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory that found corn ethanol produced in 2008-2012 reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 34 percent compared to gasoline, even after factoring in hypothetical indirect land use change.
Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee members were told that even the proposal to reduce the RFS has had an adverse effect on the advanced biofuels industry, which saw investment virtually stop as soon as EPA released the proposed rule back in November.
Given that big oil has dominated transportation fuels in this country for more than a century, by comparison, the biofuel industry is still in its infancy. Yet biofuels are rapidly transforming how we operate our cars and trucks, our military vehicles and our aircraft. In a matter of years, the fledgling ethanol and biodiesel industries have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and eliminated the need for billions of dollars of petroleum imports each year. And they have given consumers viable – if not cheaper ‑ choices at the gas pump.
A benefit of biofuels not often brought to the public eye is that offered to our nation’s airlines. Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at Airlines for America, told the Senate panel that fuel is the highest cost faced by U.S. airlines, accounting for more than one-third of total operating expenses. But, she said, a stable domestic supply of commercially-viable alternative jet fuel would provide a competitor to petroleum-based jet fuel, tempering jet fuel price and volatility.
Senators were also reminded of the growing value attributed by our nation’s military services to a home-grown biofuel supply. The Department of Defense biofuels program is based on the fact that dependence on oil – much of it from hostile or unstable countries ‑ presents real threats to national security. Advanced biofuels that can act as drop-in replacements to traditional gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel are being produced today and by the end of this decade, a significant portion of the U.S. military’s transportation fuel will be derived from feedstocks other than oil at a price that is competitive with traditional petroleum-based fuels.
The 25x’25 Alliance is encouraged by EPA pronouncements of its understanding of the multiple and valuable benefits of biofuels, and that it appreciates the need for policy certainty for the biofuel sector to remain viable. EPA says it is continuing to examine data in pursuit of a RFS rule, which is expected to come down in June. If the agency takes into account the most recent information available on the development of biofuels and its related market, there should be no question that the Obama administration must maintain full support for biofuels and the RFS must not be changed.