Comment period opens on contentious RFS proposal 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2015

U.S. EPA today opened a public comment period on its proposal setting renewable fuel mandates for 2014 through 2016, as well as the biodiesel target for 2017.

EPA unveiled the proposed mandates — which cover both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels — at the end of May, replacing an earlier scrapped proposal setting renewable fuel targets for 2014. The rule was published today in the Federal Register, and the agency will accept public comments on the proposed targets through July 27 with the goal of finalizing the numbers by Nov. 30.

The proposal issued through the renewable fuel standard program calls for setting 2014 targets at actual production levels and then increasing them year by year. By 2016, refiners would be required to blend 17.4 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum gasoline and diesel or purchase fuel credits known as Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). Of that 2016 total, 14 billion gallons would be corn ethanol.

EPA says the proposal is “ambitious” yet reflects market realities (Greenwire, Dec. 18, 2014). While the proposal calls for higher levels of renewable fuels than the earlier version, it still lags targets that Congress anticipated when it wrote the federal biofuels program into law in 2007.

In its 121-page proposed rule, EPA asked stakeholders to file “concise” comments “given the substantial task before the agency” to finalize the rule by Nov. 30 — the deadline agreed to in a tentative settlement between EPA and oil industry trade groups in a lawsuit over delays in setting the volume targets. The agency received about 340,000 comments on its prior 2014 proposal.

Both proponents and foes of the RFS program have already come out in opposition to the new levels floated by the agency. Biofuel producers say EPA should have stuck to the levels that Congress wrote into the statute and question the legality of the agency’s proposal to roll them back.

“Growth Energy will file exhaustive comments with EPA,” the ethanol trade group’s CEO, Tom Buis, vowed.

Critics, including those in the oil industry, say the proposal doesn’t go far enough to fix what they think is an unworkable biofuels policy. They point to the fact that EPA’s 2016 target would cause refiners to breach the ethanol “blend wall,” or the technical limit to the amount of ethanol that could be blended in gasoline (Greenwire, June 3).

EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposal on June 25 in Kansas City, Kan.