WASHINGTON, July 29, 2015 – The comment period on the EPA’s proposed multiyear volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) closed at midnight on Tuesday, and groups on both sides of the issue used the opportunity to ask for changes.
For renewable fuel advocates, the Environmental Protection Agency is failing by setting required blending of renewable fuels below the levels called for by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. For the oil industry, the EPA refuses to recognize low demand for higher blends of ethanol, which will be necessary to reach the 2016 requirement of 17.4 billion gallons of biofuels, with the potential for 14 billion gallons of that coming from corn ethanol.
In an e-mail preceding comments submitted by the Renewable Fuels Association, Bob Dinneen, the group’s president and CEO, said EPA is falling short of its own goal by setting blending requirements below statutory levels.
“EPA purports to be intent on putting the RFS ‘back on track,’ and even suggests this proposal moves the RFS past the so-called ‘blend wall.’ It does not,” Dinneen said. “By adopting the narrative of the oil industry with regard to how much ethanol can be blended into gasoline, EPA has unnecessarily and illegally curtailed the unprecedented evolution occurring in the transportation fuels market that was delivering technology innovation, carbon reduction and consumer savings.
The biofuels industry is also concerned about the potential for a reset of the standard in 2016, which can be triggered if volumes are set at 20 percent below statutory levels for two consecutive years or 50 percent below statutory levels for one year. The earliest the law allows for a reset is in 2016, and comments from the National Corn Growers Association point to concerns that the EPA will use the reset provision in 2017 rulemaking.
The EPA’s proposed rule, NCGA’s says in its comments, “leaves little doubt that EPA will use its self-acquired autonomy to continue to treat the RFS program as a backward-facing accounting mechanism that preserves the status quo rather than as the mechanism for driving rapid expansion in the production and use of renewable fuel as Congress intended.”
Aside from the almost 67,000 comments submitted online, Fuels America also arranged to have representatives from National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) drop off more than 200,000 written comments Monday at EPA offices in Washington. The total number of submitted comments is unavailable.
The oil industry also isn’t a fan of many aspects of EPA’s proposal, saying it falsely assumes there is a demand for higher blends of biofuels like E85, a fuel with about 85 percent ethanol. Just as biofuel advocates claim the EPA is buying into oil industry rhetoric, oil companies and their respective associations are saying the same thing about biofuel groups. In a call with reporters on Monday, Bob Grece, downstream group director for the American Petroleum Institute, said that “consumer interests should come ahead of ethanol interests,” a commonly used line by API and other oil industry advocates.
“EPA should not be forcing fuels into the market that the consumer doesn’t want or that could potentially risk damage to their engines,” Grece said, pointing to low demand and studies claiming blends higher than 10 percent ethanol – the most commonly sold fuel in the country – can be damaging to vehicle engines. “There are some good things about this rule, but overall, our primary focus is the blend wall.”
That blend wall, a presumed cap on the amount of renewable fuels the American marketplace can blend, plays into comments from all sides of the renewable fuels debate: Oil companies say it is critical to acknowledge the blend wall, and renewable fuel advocates chide the EPA for doing so. Even livestock groups like the National Chicken Council are weighing in. In comments, NCC called for a “significant reduction in the 2016 required volume obligations sufficient to bring the conventional corn ethanol volume below the 10 percent blend wall.”
While neither side of the debate has specifically mentioned intentions to sue if the EPA doesn’t change the proposal, Grece and Brendan Williams, executive vice president for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said they would keep all options open for a potential response to the final EPA rule expected by the end of November.
“Unfortunately, EPA’s actions do move markets, and this administration needs to accept that and frankly, set a mandate . . where the upside risk is minimal,” Grece said. “Aim low...let the market draw more ethanol into the marketplace as opposed to an unreasonable mandate.”
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