Underlying much of the debate over the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is the availability of the biofuels that offer economic, environmental and energy security benefits to our country. In arguing against the RFS, the oil industry presents the questionable contention that there is insufficient demand for the clean alternative, creating an impediment to blending the amount of biofuels called for by the standard.
That argument carried little weight more than 18 months ago when EPA first proposed drastic cuts in the RFS blending requirements originally set by the 2007 legislation reauthorizing the standard. The “blend wall” stance falls away with the latest Federal Highway Administration figures showing U.S. drivers covered more mileage in the first four months of this year than ever in history, sharply increasing demand for transportation fuels.
Also conveniently ignored by the oil industry is the obligation Congress gave it to provide the infrastructure needed to supply the gradual increase in biofuels to be blended to meet the RFS requirements, an obligation the industry has failed to meet.
As a result, our nation’s biorefineries now produce record amounts of renewable biofuels, yet are limited by the fact a typical gas pump in the United States can deliver fuel that contains a maximum of only 10-percent ethanol (E10). That, in turn, limits the amount of renewable fuel most consumers can purchase at the pump. Another consequence of this limited market is the extreme growth in ethanol exports, making the United States the world’s largest exporter of ethanol, with our producers sending more than $2 billion dollars of the clean alternative fuel overseas last year.
But that does not mean efforts are not underway to boost consumer access to higher ethanol blends like E15 and E85, thus making more cleaner-burning and cheaper transportation fuel available here in the United States. USDA is expanding its support of American-grown renewable energy through a Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) matching grant program.
On June 12, the department’s Farm Service Agency extended an invitation to all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., to apply for up to $100 million in grants. The funding is to be used to pay a portion of the costs related to the installation of fuel pumps and related infrastructure dedicated to the distribution of higher ethanol blends, such as E15 and E85, at vehicle fueling locations. Matching funds may be used for pumps and related infrastructure, or for related costs, like marketing, education, data collection, program evaluation and administrative costs.
Essentially, the new investment initiative aims to double the number of fuel pumps capable of supplying higher blends of renewable fuel to consumers. The move will expand markets for farmers, support rural economic growth and the jobs that come with it, and ultimately give consumers more choices at the pump.
Applications were due July 15 and a USDA spokeswoman said they were received from states all across the country and exceeded the resources available for the program, a level of interest and geographic distribution that has the department extremely encouraged about the program’s outcomes.
Elsewhere, the National Corn Growers Association recently announced the investment of an additional $500,000 to an innovative program ‑ Prime the Pump ‑ which seeks to expand fueling infrastructure capable of delivering higher blends of ethanol fuel. The latest amount brings the NCGA commitment to $2 million in the last year. Prime the Pump will use the funds pledged by corn farmers in NCGA, state affiliate groups and other trade organizations and businesses, as matching funds to secure grants under the USDA BIP program.
Also, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has worked with petroleum marketers and station owners for years on educational outreach by conducting workshops, webinars and individual meetings, providing retailers with promotional materials and all required labeling to educate consumers on the appropriate options for their engines and promote the availability.
RFA also works with state and federal agencies, dispenser manufacturers and local service companies. Most recently, RFA assisted several states with their BIP program applications. And the association has also been involved in a partnership with the American Coalition for Ethanol on the Blend Your Own (BYO) Ethanol Campaign. Both efforts have supported the expansion of E15 and E85 across the country and resulted in hundreds of new stations offering higher blends of ethanol.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway in the private sector where fuel dispenser interests are working to enhance various states’ efforts to obtain funding through BIP and offering deeply discounted price incentives on higher blend ethanol pumps.
These initiatives offer a considerable opportunity to strengthen the positioning of renewable fuels through availability and reach and to give consumers more choices at the pump. They keep this nation on the appropriate course of action to promote and expand the use of produced transportation fuels that help create jobs and boost the economy, particularly in rural America, reduce our oil exports and improve our environment by vastly reducing the emissions put out by gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels.