Researchers say 'modify' the RFS, don't repeal it

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2013-Two University of Illinois researchers say any modifications Congress might make to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) should be minimal. And lawmakers should not even consider repealing the standard, which the researchers say is the country's most comprehensive renewable energy policy.

In their paper, law professors Jay Kesan and Timothy Slating, who are associated with the public-private research partnership Energy Biosciences Institute, argue Congress should only adjust the renewable fuel blending mandates set by the RFS to better reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities.

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The institute unites research teams from the University of Illinois, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. BP, the multinational oil and gas firm, is providing $500 million in funding for the institute over 10 years.

“The RFS is the first and only federal policy that directly mandates the use of renewable energy in the worthwhile effort to displace the use of fossil fuels for our energy needs,” said Kesan. “As with any pioneering regulatory regime, unforeseen implementation issues will arise.

“But this does not justify throwing out the baby with the bath water,” Kesan said. “Every effort should be made to keep the RFS in place, but efforts should also be made to revise its regulatory regime to make it operate as efficiently as possible.”

A panel of four members on the House Energy Committee will explore possible modification of the statute authorizing the RFS to meet concerns raised by oil companies and other stakeholders. The biofuels industry, however, says EPA already has the authority to make any needed changes to the RFS.

Kesan and Slating acknowledge that the current RFS policy is not flawless. Some of the current implementation issues would necessitate changes, but they say it would be more efficient for these changes to be made by EPA, as opposed to Congress. They recommend that Congress simply amend the RFS' statutory provisions to grant EPA the authority to address its implementation issues via the regulatory rulemaking process.

For example, the RFS's volumetric mandates need to be adjusted to reflect current biofuel production realities, the researchers say.

“But since Congress has demonstrated an inability to properly set these mandates in the past, it would be more efficient for the EPA to set the RFS mandates for future years through a formal rulemaking process with input from all affected stakeholders,” Kesan said.

The paper by Kesan and Slating, which is set to be published in a forthcoming issue of the New York University Environmental Law Journal, argues that the RFS can, in fact, serve as a “model policy instrument” for the federal support of all types of socially beneficial renewable energy technologies.

The researchers argue that the “ultimate goal” of the RFS is to incentivize the increased commercialization of second-generation biofuels, such as cellulosic biofuels that do not rely on food-related feedstocks for their production. “But in order to efficiently accomplish this goal, the RFS also must continue to incentivize the use of first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol,” Slating said.

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