15 Years of the RFS: A Reason to Celebrate

Source: By Geoff Cooper, RFA • Posted: Sunday, October 4, 2020

While producers continue to respond to whatever crisis du jour comes their way, they cannot lose sight of how far the ethanol industry has come. Despite the COVID-19 downturn, 15 years of the Renewable Fuel Standard is truly something to celebrate.

So much of our industry’s time and effort in recent years has been focused on reacting to crises, defending against misguided attacks, and addressing day-to-day challenges. Whether we are coping with the market impacts of COVID-19, responding to myths and misinformation about ethanol, or fighting to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard, these daily skirmishes sometimes make it too easy to lose sight of the big picture. When we are so focused on “fighting fires,” we often forget to stop, take a breath, and reflect on the victories and successes that got us to where we are today as an industry.

But Aug. 8 provided us one of those rare opportunities to take a break from the daily grind and look back on one of the most important moments in the history of renewable fuels. In a watershed moment for America’s ethanol industry, President George W. Bush signed into law the first-ever Renewable Fuel Standard on Aug. 8, 2005. Surrounded by the leaders in Congress and the administration who made it possible, Bush astutely outlined the complementary objectives of the policy as he signed the bill: “Using ethanol and biodiesel will leave our air cleaner. And every time we use a home-grown fuel, we’re going to be helping our farmers, and at the same time, be less dependent on foreign sources of energy.”

Cleaner air. Boosting the farm economy. Energy security. Those were the laudable goals of the original RFS. Fifteen years later, we can proudly proclaim that the RFS hasn’t just lived up to its ambitious expectations—it has far exceeded them.

As the Renewable Fuels Association outlined in an anniversary report, the RFS has been a smashing success. In addition to decreasing reliance on imported petroleum, this policy has reduced emissions of harmful tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gases, lowered consumer fuel prices, supported hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural America, and boosted the agricultural economy by adding value to the crops produced by our nation’s farmers. And far from “distorting the free market,” as RFS opponents often claim, the policy has been remarkably effective in stimulating market competition and giving consumers more choices. Simply put, the RFS ensures renewable fuels can gain access to a fuel market that had been monopolized for nearly a century and would otherwise be closed to competition.

Because the RFS has succeeded in replacing petroleum with cleaner renewable fuels, the policy has come under fierce attack from the incumbent fossil fuel industry and its supporters. The oil industry and its allies continue to devise strategies and tactics intended to frustrate the goals of the RFS, undermine and complicate implementation, and mislead the public about the many benefits of renewable fuels. But we have met and overcome those challenges at every turn, and we will continue to protect and defend the RFS from relentless assaults.

While the 15th anniversary of the RFS provides an opportunity to pause for reflection, there’s no time to rest on the policy’s laurels. The RFS isn’t done yet. Indeed, it’s only gotten started. Contrary to the narrative advanced by some critics of the program, the RFS does not “end” or “sunset” in 2022.

Congress clearly intended for the RFS to continue driving innovation and growth in renewable fuels production and usage well beyond 2022.

In its next chapter, we believe the RFS will drive accelerated decarbonization of our liquid fuel supply, stimulate increased fuel and engine efficiency, further diversify our fuel mix, expand economic opportunities for the farm sector, and catalyze even lower prices and greater competition at the pump—all because of the enduring policy foundation created 15 years ago.

So, while we must continue to respond to whatever crisis du jour comes at us next, we cannot lose sight of how far we’ve come. Amidst the chaos and confusion of COVID-19, small refinery exemptions, trade wars, and the election, 15 years of the Renewable Fuel Standard is truly something to celebrate.