EPA faces new pressure to act on backlog of RFS applications

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2019

EPA is facing new pressure to quickly approve requests from bioenergy producers to qualify under the federal renewable fuel standard, a move the industry says is long overdue.

Prodded by producers of biomass, biogas and similar energy sources, congressional appropriators last week urged EPA to decide within 90 days on a backlog of applications under the RFS.

The conference report on the fiscal 2018 spending bill, which averted another government shutdown, includes a provision that “strongly encourages” the agency to process the applications within 90 days. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) were chief sponsors.

While the directive isn’t mandatory, it represents positive action for companies that have been waiting years for EPA to advance renewable electricity as part of the RFS, trade groups said. Congress included renewable electricity as part of an expanded RFS in 2007, but that part of the law hasn’t been implemented, said Carrie Annand, a spokeswoman for the Biomass Power Association.

The backlog of applications is more than four years long, according to trade associations.

“Congress included electricity in the RFS2 bill more than 11 years ago, and it’s past time for the EPA to include electricity in the program and enable biomass power producers to participate in the RFS,” said Bob Cleaves, president and chief executive officer of the Biomass Power Association.

EPA faces various backlogs on applications for renewable fuels, including cellulosic ethanol. The agency has cited the complicated nature of some applications, and groups that have applied say the agency appears to be short-staffed on the RFS (Greenwire, Aug. 22, 2018).

BPA, the American Biogas Council and other organizations recently created a new coalition called the RFS Power Coalition, aimed at speeding the renewable electricity industry’s participation in the RFS. The coalition earlier this month asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the agency’s final rule for renewable fuel volumes for 2019.

The final rule doesn’t include renewable electricity, and farms and food-waste-to-energy facilities ought to be allowed to participate, Annand said.

So far, the RFS has been dominated by debates over what type of fuel is put in cars, and how much ethanol it should contain. While that issue has driven the fight in Congress and between petroleum and ethanol groups, the renewable electricity advocates are pushing for more favorable treatment of energy produced from sources such as manure digesters and municipal waste systems.

Those so-called pathways are part of the intent of the RFS and should qualify for electric renewable fuel credits, also called eRINs — for Renewable Identification Numbers — the coalition said.