EPA has no plans for post-RFS world

Source: Marc Heller, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2016

U.S. EPA isn’t crafting any plans for how it will dictate alternative fuel blends once congressionally set mandates expire, an official told lawmakers yesterday.

Whether that date — the year 2022 — is comfortably off in the future or near at hand is a matter of interpretation, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee learned during a hearing on the federal renewable fuel standard.

The year “is quite a ways off,” Christopher Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said at a joint hearing of the subcommittees on Interior and Administrative Rules.

“The honest answer is I have no idea what the standards will look like after 2022,” Grundler said, responding to questions from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

Gosar was looking for hints about how EPA planned to manage fuel blends once levels set by Congress expire. At that point, the agency will have authority to dictate how much renewable fuel should come from various sources.

Gosar’s questioning mirrors that of another RFS critic, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who took a similar tack with EPA officials at a hearing in February.

To Gosar, six years isn’t far away at all, and he described the government’s unwillingness to offer insights as strange given that other types of multiyear projections weren’t unusual at the federal level.

Whether the RFS will still exist in 2022 isn’t certain, either. Gosar and Inhofe are among lawmakers who say it has been a failure, helping drive up food costs because of the use of corn for ethanol, which they say damages small engines in boats and machinery.

Critics at the hearing yesterday told lawmakers the RFS has pushed too much acreage into corn and taken away resources that should go into food production. As much as 40 percent of corn grown in the United States now is used for ethanol, they said.

EPA’s administration of the RFS is now tied up in federal court. Petroleum companies, for instance, say they can’t meet the fuel mix levels EPA directed for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

For 2017, the agency is weighing information from refiners and other stakeholders, and leaders plan to be timely with announcing the goals, Grundler said.

That wasn’t much comfort to Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), who pressed Grundler on how much ethanol EPA wanted to see in fuel. Boaters in his coastal congressional district worry about engines that could become disabled.

Grundler said newer boat engines were made to handle stronger ethanol blends. Carter said, “This is putting peoples’ safety at risk. This is going to have a big impact on boaters all across the country.”