White House Must Hold Course on RFS

The disclosure earlier this month that EPA was considering a significant reduction in volume blending requirements under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has drawn some strong reaction from the biofuels industry – and rightly so.

Media reports of a “leaked” EPA document said to be under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget indicate the agency is proposing a total RFS mandate of 15.22 billion gallons of biofuel next year, significantly less than the 18.15 billion gallons set by the federal statute – the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) – that reauthorized the RFS in 2007. Equally disturbing are reports the corn ethanol mandate would be cut from 14.4 billion gallons of corn ethanol set by EISA for 2014 down to 13 billion gallons, an amount less than the 13.8 billion required this year.

The reduced levels proposed are almost the same called for by the oil industry in its request to EPA that the agency waive a large portion of its RFS biofuel requirement next year.

The biofuel industry has – and should – vigorously defend the mandates set by EISA for next year. The RFS has proven to be a singularly powerful policy tool that helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil (an addiction that continues, regardless of the increase over the past two year in domestically produced oil), boosts the economy by creating jobs in a rapidly growing sector, and improves the environment by producing fuels that offer huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline and other fossil-based fuels.

The most recent effort to convince the White House to hold the course on a policy that a bipartisan Congress six years ago deemed to be the appropriate response to an increasingly untenable reliance on fossil fuels is a letter sent to President Obama this week by Fuels America.

The advocacy group, which is made up of dozens of organizations and companies heavily invested in the development and production of renewable fuels, rightfully cites the president’s own endorsement of “sustainable energy sources” as a means of addressing climate change and powering new jobs.

Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s fuel supply comes from domestically produced, renewable sources, most of it in the form of a 10-percent blend of corn ethanol (E10). EPA has approved the use of E15, a blend for 2001 and newer cars and light trucks that is starting to be distributed in the Midwest. “Advanced” biofuels, like well-established biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol, which is starting to be produced at commercial scale, offer significantly lower emission levels.

Yet, the oil industry is seeking to protect its market share, claiming that it cannot use more renewable fuel in U.S. fuel blends, citing what’s called a “blend wall.” In its letter to the White House, Fuels America calls out the oil industry and its specious claims that blends higher than 10 percent cause vehicle problems, even though most cars on the road are now approved for higher blends. The letter also disputes Big Oil’s claim that the necessary fuel is not available, noting that the biofuels industry has produced every gallon required by Congress through 2012, and is expected to do so this year and next.

“The issue is not that they can’t blend more renewable fuel, but that they won’t,” Fuels America tells the president. To lower the RFS requirements as suggested by the recent media reports, EPA would “reward the oil companies for refusing to comply with the program.”

Lowering RFS requirements would harm the economy, first by raising the price of gas as lower cost ethanol moves out of the gasoline supply, then by increasing unemployment as renewable fuel producers with hundreds of thousands of workers cut back, putting American jobs and rural economies at risk. Furthermore, weakening the RFS would destabilize rural economies just as farmers are expecting a near-record corn crop and strand billions of dollars of private capital invested by renewable fuel producers and related companies based on the stability offered by the 15-year policy adopted in law in 2007.

And reducing the mandate for advanced biofuels will increase greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, as unconventional oil like tar sands replaces low carbon renewable fuel currently in use, Fuels America tells the president.

The 25x’25 Alliance, which signed on to the letter with two dozen other renewable fuel stakeholders, joins in telling the president that the proposal reportedly put forward by EPA is a “sign of a nation willing to cede its leadership role in moving toward low carbon transportation fuels, unwilling to stay on track with its statutory responsibilities when faced with opposition from incumbent industries – even opposition that is not grounded in fact.” We urge the president to reject this policy step backwards and keep the nation on the path to a clean energy future.

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