Do we still need a renewable fuel standard?

Source: By Anne Steckel, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2016

Headlines tell us the world is awash with oil. Gas costs less than bottled water in many places, and petroleum markets are in a prolonged slump that’s wreaking havoc on the industry’s bottom line.

But my instinct tells me this won’t last long. I’ve lived long enough to have seen this movie before. Gas prices fall, and gas prices rise. The only constant is that consumers, and Congress, can’t do much about it in a world dependent on oil.

To hear the oil industry tell it, the status quo is just fine. We have more than enough petroleum to continue our dependence on oil for the foreseeable future, they argue. The current “era of abundance,” they say, has eliminated the need for alternative fuels and the policies supporting them such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Nothing could be further from the truth, and we shouldn’t let the fleeting benefits of today’s low oil prices cloud our judgment. Instead of knee-jerk energy policy reacting to the oil markets, we need stable, long-term policies like the RFS that help develop new technologies, diversify American energy supplies and protect consumers.

Anyone doubting this should look to the International Energy Agency’s most recent monthly oil market report, which found that the Middle East’s share of the world market has climbed recently to 35 percent – the highest it’s been since the late 1970s. This comes after OPEC nations, Russia and others have openly manipulated supplies to maintain their dominance on the global market.

Imagine if other industries did this – if nations openly colluded to shape the cost of medicine or food. The world would be outraged, and conspirators would go to jail. Yet with oil – the commodity that most shapes the health of the global economy – we’ve resigned ourselves to state-supported price-fixing. It’s because we are dependent on it. We have no choice.

This is the same oil market that US oil lobbyists argue is a free market. Big Oil routinely maintains that we should simply let the market work – that we don’t need policies supporting alternative fuels. Never mind that there is no true free market in oil, and that even when we drill more at home, prices are set on the heavily manipulated global market.

This also ignores the fact that because our economy is so dependent on energy, Congress has wisely adopted policies for more than a century to develop diversified domestic production. This includes tax incentives, low-cost loans, federal research, and grants for all manner of energy industries, including oil and gas, nuclear power, wind and solar, coal, and fracking.

Without those polices, we wouldn’t be the global leader in energy production that we are today.

The RFS, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005 with bipartisan congressional support, is a continuation of that strategy that is doing the job. We now get nearly 10 percent of our transportation fuel from clean, renewable sources, and that percentage will only rise if we stay the course.

And it’s not just about corn ethanol. The industry I work for, biodiesel, has grown from a small, niche business into a commercial-scale industry with production plants in almost every state in the country. Last year, Americans consumed a record of more than 2 billion gallons of biodiesel, made from a variety of resources such as soybean oil and recycled cooking oil.

Along with diversifying the market, biodiesel is creating American jobs and economic activity. It significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions – by 57 percent to 86 percent compared with petroleum diesel, according to the EPA, qualifying it as an Advanced Biofuel under the RFS.

This is a tremendous success for the country that we should all support – regardless of the latest price of a barrel of oil. We all know that price will rise again, and when it does the public will demand that Congress do something about it. Nothing changes over night, but the RFS is smart policy that already is shaking up the oil monopoly and giving consumers a more competitive market.

Ann Steckel is Vice President of Federal Affairs for the National Biodiesel Board. With nearly 200 member companies, NBB is the leading U.S. trade association representing biodiesel and renewable diesel.