OIG announces probe of EPA's RFS management

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2015 - The Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog is launching an investigation into the agency's analysis of the climate impacts of biofuels.

In a letter posted on its website, EPA's Office of Inspector General said it plans to begin preliminary research to determine whether EPA has properly accounted for the full greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels. Biofuels must meet targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to qualify for usage mandates set by the Renewable Fuel Standard.

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The review will consider among other things whether EPA updated its lifecycle analysis of carbon emissions with results from a 2011 National Academy of Sciences study. The IG investigation comes as opponents of the RFS are airing ads claiming that ethanol is bad for the environment.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said his organization has been asking for this information for years.

We welcome this review, as it will give the public a clearer picture of the climate benefits that ethanol is producing today Dinneen said.

Under the 2007 energy law, corn ethanol must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent in order to qualify for the RFS. EPA is required to account for both the direct emissions that result from producing the corn and the ethanol as well as the indirect impact on land use, or indirect land-use change (ILUC). The theory behind ILUC is that devoting cropland to biofuel production can lead to conversion of grasslands or forest in other areas.

University of Illinois economist Scott Irwin said the IG review will likely center on indirect emissions. The problem is that the best available models are ridiculously bad for making estimates of the magnitude of ILUC for the time scales in question (decades), Irwin said in an email.

Dinneen said lifecycle analysis conducted by the Department of Energy and others since the RFS was implemented show that grain ethanol produced today reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared to fossil fuels - even when hypothetical land use emissions are taken into account.

These results show that the RFS is doing what it was intended to do, and is a potent weapon in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Dinneen.

The inspector general is asking EPA to provide triennial reports issued to Congress since 2011 regarding resource conservation impacts of the RFS program, documentation of EPA's response to the 2011 NAS study and any resulting recommendations, and documented changes or planned future modifications based on any of the provided literature.

No definitive timetable was given in the letter, but it does state that OIG will work to arrange a mutually agreeable time to discuss objectives and any issues. In an email to Agri-Pulse, an OIG spokesman said the preliminary review is expected to last 90 days. 

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