Biofuels: EPA wants data on low-carbon cellulosic fuel production targets

Source: By Inside EPA • Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

EPA is proposing to issue an information collection request (ICR) asking biofuel producers for more data on how much low-carbon cellulosic fuel they expect to produce in the coming years, a move that could inform — and, possibly, further delay — mandatory blend targets the agency is struggling to set for its renewable fuel standard (RFS) program.

In a March 24 Federal Register notice, EPA says it is “seeking to collect information from potential cellulosic biofuel producers to aid in determining the annual volume standards.”

The agency says the proposed ICR includes a questionnaire form to collect information from certain ethanol producers and importers who have been approved to use an ‘‘efficient producer’’ pathway to produce fuel for the RFS category, adding that the form would “standardize collection of selected data points and allow better and more efficient compliance with the RFS program.”

Under the RFS, EPA sets annual fuel production targets for various renewable fuels that emit fewer GHGs than conventional gasoline. Cellulosic and advanced biofuels have the lowest carbon footprint of the fuels required to comply, with cellulosic generally having to emit 60 percent fewer GHGs than petroleum while advanced biofuels must emit 50 percent fewer GHGs.

But EPA’s targets drive fights between refiners and other obligated parties that must meet the rules’ blend targets and biofuels advocates who seek larger targets in part to drive demand.

Refiners, who say EPA should set achievable targets, have been especially concerned because the agency has in the past set targets for cellulosic fuels that are significantly higher than what has been produced, forcing refiners to purchase costly compliance credits from the agency to offset the lack of production. But producers and others have suggested that more cellulosic and other fuels were becoming available as large companies ramped up production.

Earlier this year, for example, EPA data showed a sizable increase in the volume of cellulosic and other low-carbon biofuels being produced, data that suggested the agency may be able to to issue blend targets for 2014 and beyond.

But the proposed ICR suggests those targets might not be forthcoming anytime soon.

And adding to the contention, major refining groups last week filed a lawsuit seeking a court-ordered deadline for EPA to issue its delayed 2014 and 2015 RFS blend targets, faulting the agency for repeatedly missing a Clean Air Act-mandated deadline for the issuance of annual RFS fuel blending goals by Nov. 30 of the preceding year.

The suit, filed March 18 in federal district court by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and American Petroleum Institute, claims that the groups’ members are suffering economic injury as a result of EPA’s failure to issue final RFS production targets in a timely fashion. The delay hinders refiners’ ability to plan for and, if necessary, adjust their operations to ensure compliance with the fuel blending goals, they say.