Renewable arguments prevail at field hearing on RFS

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, June 9, 2016 - EPA officials heard from all sides of the Renewable Fuel Standard debate on Thursday, and one thing is certain: No one is content with the most recent proposal as it is currently written.

About 140 witnesses spoke their piece on the future of the RFS at a public hearing Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri. Most of the testimony supported renewable fuels, and speakers from that side of the argument repeatedly urged EPA to go just a little further in its 2017 blending proposal.

Last month, in its proposed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) for 2017, EPA called for 14.8 billion gallons of biofuel - typically viewed as ethanol - to be mixed with the gasoline supply, for a total of 18.8 billion gallons of biofuels after adding a 4-billion-gallon advanced biofuel component.

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Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, told EPA that corn farmers were “extremely angry” about the proposed RVOs. He said the 200-million-gallon gap between the conventional biofuel RVO in the EPA proposal and the 15 billion gallon RVO in the language in the law that created the program represents about 71 million bushels of unutilized corn, or roughly the production from his home state of Maryland.

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen offered similar comments, saying EPA is falling short of its stated goal to get the RFS back on track.

“In your own words, this proposal takes EPA 99 percent of the way down that pathway,” Dinneen said in comments directed at EPA officials. “Is avoiding the last 1 percent of the journey really worth the risk of further litigation and continued conflict with stakeholders in the agricultural, environmental, biofuel, and energy security communities?”

EPA is already embroiled in a lawsuit over last year's RVOs, which belatedly set three years' worth of blending requirements. At the time, EPA said the proposal for 2017 represented “ambitious, achievable growth.” The agency cited infrastructure concerns in setting the RVOs short of statutory requirements. NCGA, RFA, and other groups sued, saying the law does not allow for an infrastructure waiver. That legal action is likely to continue into next year.

However, ethanol and renewable fuel opponents used similar language in their testimony. Geoff Moody with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers encouraged EPA to set a 2017 RVO that is “reasonable, not aspirational.” He added that EPA has “the authority and the responsibility to waive the RFS mandates” to reflect changes in the marketplace.

Patrick Kelly, senior fuels policy adviser with the American Petroleum Institute, went a step further.

“Until Congress repeals or significantly reforms the RFS, EPA must continue to address this outdated volume requirement by exercising its waiver authorities,” he said, adding that the EPA “did not go far enough” in its volume reduction.

But biofuel backers say the policy is meant to project, not reflect. Anne Steckel with the National Biodiesel Board said the RFS was never meant to be a “status quo policy,” but the 4 billion-gallon advanced biofuel RVO is a status quo volume. She said the EPA should revise its RVO up to allow for 4.75 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.

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The White House was also a target of criticism. Biofuel advocates said they had hoped President Barack Obama would have been more supportive of the renewable fuels industry based on comments he made during his run for the Oval Office. Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, noted that this is the Obama administration's last chance to leave their mark on the program.

“An oil man from Texas named Bush could go down as the staunchest defender and promoter of renewable fuels instead of a senator from corn country named Obama,” Shaw said. President George W. Bush signed the most recent iteration of the RFS into law in 2007.

EPA intends to publish a final rule setting the 2017 RVOs by the end of November. Ethanol advocates are hoping the agency follows the example it set last year when it raised RVOs from its initial proposal. Dinneen told reporters he is “growing increasingly confident” that will happen.

So far, the EPA has received over 4,300 comments in addition to the oral testimony given on Thursday. The agency is accepting public comments on the 2017 RVOs until July 11.

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