Air chief to face questions about agency’s RFS backpedal 

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014

House lawmakers will press U.S. EPA’s air chief for answers this week about the agency’s decision to punt on its legally mandated renewable fuel standard.

EPA sparked criticism last month when it failed to finalize a delayed rule mandating the amount of renewable fuel required in petroleum-based gasoline and diesel (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

The agency had proposed in 2013 to scale back renewable fuel targets for the first time since Congress passed a national biofuel mandate in 2007 (Greenwire, Nov. 15, 2013). But in part due to comments and criticism the agency received on its proposal, EPA said it would wait to finalize its 2014 standards in 2015.

In the wake of that decision, House lawmakers led by Oklahoma Republican Rep. James Lankford, who will move to the Senate next month, will grill EPA’s top air official on her agency’s management of the renewable fuels mandates.

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, is slated to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees energy policy.

Lankford, the chairman of the subpanel, is expected to berate EPA and the overall RFS program. He released a scathing statement after the agency’s announcement last month that it wouldn’t issue a final standard this year.

“Lacking a clear plan, EPA continues to drag out, stall and generally further complicate the already unworkable RFS,” he said. “The only clarity in this announcement is that EPA clearly knows the additives mandated would likely not be available in the quantities required.”

In June, Lankford released a bill, H.R. 4849, the “Phantom Fuels Elimination Act,” that would remove the corn ethanol requirement of the federal renewable fuel standard and mandate that all biofuels in the standard come from domestic sources (Greenwire, June 13).

“While a full repeal of the RFS is still the ultimate goal, we must take the steps we can to alleviate the EPA’s control over the system,” Lankford said last month.

Biofuel producers have complained that the renewable fuel standard was meant to drive investment in new fuels and that EPA’s proposal to scale back the targets amounted to bowing to oil companies’ demands.

The oil industry said the proposal didn’t go far enough toward addressing its concerns and prodded the agency to lower the ethanol portion of the nation’s petroleum-based fuel supply even further.

EPA said last month in a statement that “the proposed rule, issued in November 2013, generated a significant number of comments, particularly on the proposal’s ability to ensure continued progress toward achieving the law’s renewable fuel targets.”

The agency said its goal is to address the 2014, 2015 and 2016 mandates next year so the administration can catch up with the statutory deadlines set by Congress. By law, EPA was supposed to have finalized the 2014 RFS mandates by Nov. 30 of last year.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 9:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.

Witness: Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.