Democratic senators slam Obama admin over delayed RFS rules 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 8, 2015

A coalition of Democratic senators yesterday slammed the Obama administration over delays in setting annual targets for biofuels through the renewable fuel standard program.

The group, led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), said that the delays in setting the targets were causing uncertainty that was particularly hurting the biodiesel industry. U.S. EPA has not yet set any renewable fuel mandates for 2014 and beyond.

Biodiesel is an advanced biofuel made up of soybean oil, used cooking grease and animal fats. Under the renewable fuel standard, EPA is supposed to set the year’s requirement for how much biodiesel refiners have to use 14 months before the year begins.

“I’m a big fan of this administration, as you can probably guess, being my former colleague from Illinois who is now our president,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “but there is no excuse for what we’ve been going through for the last 2½, three years.”

As part of a proposal for 2014, EPA said it would keep the biodiesel target level at 1.28 billion gallons. Biodiesel producers, however, complained that it lowballed their expected production; producers ended up generating about 1.8 billion gallons last year, about level with 2013. EPA ultimately never finalized the proposal, nor did it finalize any other renewable fuel targets for 2014 and beyond.

At a news conference yesterday, the Democratic senators said that the Obama administration, by not issuing the standards in a timely manner or at the levels contained in the RFS, had gone against the intent of Congress, which passed the RFS into law in 2007.

“They have taken away that consistency, those long-term goals, a way you can predict on how to invest, by not having any standard and not knowing what’s going to happen,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said.

Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Al Franken of Minnesota rounded out the group. The news conference came shortly after 37 bipartisan senators urged EPA to set robust targets for biofuels (E&E Daily, April 24).

Biodiesel producers say that the signals EPA sent with its 2014 proposal and the subsequent delay in issuing any targets, combined with uncertainty over the industry’s $1-per-gallon tax credit, have halted expansion plans and caused more than 50 plants to either close or idle since November 2012.

“2014 was poised to be a breakout year for biodiesel, until the 2014 [RFS] proposal intervened,” said Kent Engelbrecht, manager of the biodiesel division at Archer Daniels Midland. “With the subsequent expiration of the biodiesel tax credit, we were forced to cease or slow production at all of our facilities.”

In a recent proposed settlement with oil groups, EPA agreed to propose 2014 and 2015 targets for all types of biofuels by June 1 and to finalize that proposal by Nov. 30. EPA has said that it would issue targets for 2016, as well as the 2017 biodiesel target, under the same timeline. The proposal is currently at the White House Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.

“Biofuels are an important part of the president’s energy strategy, helping to curb our dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution and drive innovation,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said yesterday.

Heitkamp, however, said that the administration has not followed through on its words.

“At a time when the administration purports to want to speed up green technologies,” she said, “their policy, their lack of implementation of congressional policy, has basically had the opposite result.”