Opinion

RFS Needs Commitment, Not Reform

As seems to happen with every new Congress, lawmakers opposed to alternative energy are floating proposals to re-legislate the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – the federal policy that requires a minimum volume of renewable fuels are blended into the national fuel supply. (See Feb. 18 Morning Consult.)

Just like in years past, the efforts at “reform” are often just thinly veiled attempts to eliminate the RFS. The only new twist this year is that as a result of inaction by the Obama administration, the program itself is in a state of disarray that looks like blood in the water to our opponents. The overriding truth, however, is that the policy works incredibly well, and we simply need the EPA to effectively administer it so that we can continue diversifying our fuel supplies and reducing our dangerous dependence on oil.

The renewable fuels critics – typically doing the oil industry’s bidding – throw out all sorts of unfounded attacks, one of which lately is that Advanced Biofuels aren’t happening and will never reach commercial scale.  Unfortunately, Morning Consult repeated this myth in its coverage. [Ed: the Morning Consult stands by its assessment of advanced biofuel production. See below.]

As a representative of the U.S. biodiesel industry, I am proud to say it is patently false. As defined by law and by the EPA, Advanced Biofuels are those that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent when compared to their petroleum counterpart. A number of fuels qualify for this designation, including biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, renewable diesel and others, and they are poised to grow significantly in the coming years.

But we’re already seeing significant volumes. The U.S. biodiesel industry – which has plants across the country producing fuel from a wide variety of resources such as recycled cooking oil and plant oils – has delivered more than 1 billion gallons of Advanced Biofuel in each of the past four years. In 2013, the U.S. biodiesel market reached a peak of nearly 1.8 billion gallons – displacing an equivalent volume of petroleum diesel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 million metric tons, or enough to remove 3.6 million cars from America’s roads.

Of course the fact that we’re replacing petroleum diesel has its own benefits, specifically bringing badly needed diversity to the nation’s fuel supply. Our electric power grid is fueled by oil, gas, hydro, solar, nuclear and more, delivering competition and stability to the marketplace. We need the same in our transportation sector instead of the petroleum monopoly we have now.

Yet the EPA, which has responsibility for setting annual biodiesel requirements for the RFS, has been paralyzed with indecision. Inexplicably, the rule for 2014 still has not been finalized – two months after that year has passed – not to mention the volume requirements for 2015 and 2016 that are now also overdue.

How can biodiesel producers be expected to operate in such an environment? How do they make decisions on investing in their businesses and employees without some level of stability in the market? And how do they attract capital to grow their companies?

The simple answer to those questions is “they can’t.” And, sadly, as a result, we’re seeing plants close and employees laid off.

Amid this uncertainty, the EPA added salt to the wound when it somehow found time to approve a new streamlined pathway for Argentinian biodiesel to qualify for the RFS. They came to this conclusion, which could lead to the displacement of hundreds of millions of gallons of U.S. biodiesel, by allowing the Argentinians an easier means to meet sustainability requirements without the benefit of a single hearing or a shred of public comment.

The endless delays need to end. The RFS doesn’t need reform. It needs commitment and accountability from the EPA and the Obama Administration, which has often proclaimed their support for biodiesel and other advanced biofuels. And they can start by finalizing the 2014 through 2016 biodiesel volume requirements immediately.

 

Anne Steckel is Vice President of Federal Affairs at the National Biodiesel Board, the U.S. trade association of America’s most productive advanced biofuel producers.

Editor’s Note: In “Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Closer to Reality Than Ever,” the Morning Consult called production of advanced biofuels “slight” compared to the production levels of corn ethanol. We stand by that assessment. We then quoted Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, on why there’s still plenty of potential for advanced biofuels: “They know that if cellulosic ethanol is given a marketplace and is given a barrel, you’re talking about not 10 percent of the barrel but 25 to 30 percent of the barrel.”

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