WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2014 -- Just when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is promising the new GOP-controlled Senate will rein in the EPA and its regulatory powers, 54 agricultural, conservation, environmental, public health and bioenergy organizations are urging the agency to do more – not less – at least when it comes to biofuels.

In a Nov. 11 letter to the EPA, the 25x'25 Alliance, American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, “Clean Cities” groups, and other organizations asked EPA “to support the further advancement and deployment of biofuels into the nation’s liquid transportation fuel pool.”

The letter insists that greater use of biofuels is “essential to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhancing air quality.” The groups note that EPA is over a year late on publishing guidance on flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) which can use ethanol blends up to E85 (85 percent ethanol) rather than just the now standard E10.

Without EPA’s guidance and the incentive of CO2-reduction credits, 25x'25 Project Coordinator Ernie Shea warns, auto manufacturers won’t build FFVs – and the U.S. will continue to lose out on the economic, health and environmental benefits generated by burning more biofuels and less gasoline. Shea tells Agri-Pulse that EPA’s delay in issuing the promised guidance means the auto companies “aren’t making any investments or moving forward with the production of flex-fuel vehicle engines.”

Shea acknowledges that getting more biofuels into the national transportation fuel mix won’t be easy. He says it’s a three-level challenge to produce the biofuels, manufacture the flex-fuel engines to burn the fuels, and then provide the blender pumps to deliver the fuel to consumers. But he’s convinced that EPA could be doing more to make it all happen.

What’s needed he says, speaking for the broad coalition behind the Nov. 11 letter, is for EPA to draw on the full resources of the federal government and to incorporate the latest science. The result will be better decisions and better public understanding of these decisions once they are seen to be the result of a transparent, science-based process. He says the process needs to include White House leadership and input from across the government including EPA, USDA, the Energy Department and its research labs, and the Defense Department.

Along with issuing its year-overdue FFV guidance and its nearly year-overdue Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements for 2014, Shea says, EPA needs to take a broader look at the increasing benefits from growing plant materials as feedstocks for both liquid transportation fuels and combined heat and power plants. Shea points to a series of recent studies showing that EPA has failed to account for the full benefits provided by replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels.

Shea says that unfortunately, “EPA is not adequately synchronizing their decisions so that they work in harmony to deliver the benefits that the research community is showing us are possible.” Thanks to new technology at all levels of the biofuels production process, Shea points out, “We’re delivering a much cleaner biofuel that is getting better and better compared to petroleum gasoline. Biofuels are getting cleaner while petroleum fuels, because they are now being produced from tighter, dirtier crude oil, are getting more carbon intensive. Their carbon intensity is going up while biofuels carbon intensity continues to go down.” But until EPA catches up with the latest science, he warns, “We’re missing out on the full benefits that biofuels can deliver to the nation.”

To move biofuels forward, 25x’25 and its partner organizations will be meeting with EPA officials along with senior officials at USDA, DOE and the Department of Defense to discuss how greater availability of flex fuel vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving national security.

One message that the coalition plans to deliver is that the U.S. needs to strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard and its requirements for the use of biofuels – not reduce the mandate. The group points to the economic impacts that backing away from the RFS would have for seven major ethanol producing states. According to figures provided by POET, the leading U.S. ethanol producer, ethanol currently provides a wealth of economic activity:

  • Ohio: Ethanol operations in Ohio produce an estimated $433 million in economic output annually.
  • Indiana: Indiana’s ethanol industry contributes $520 million to the state’s GSP (Gross State Product) annually.
  • Michigan: $172.8 million in economic activity from ethanol production.
  • South Dakota: Ethanol production added over $3.8 billion in economic impact.
  • Minnesota: Ethanol industry generates over $5 billion in total economic impact to the state.
  • Iowa: The renewable fuels industry has added $12.9 billion of income to the pockets of Iowans over the past decade.
  • Missouri: In 2011, the direct, indirect and induced efforts of Missouri’s ethanol industry generated $1.1 billion in economic output, sustained 1,575 jobs and added $162 million in value to the state’s economy.
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