EPA names candidates to peer-review RFS report

Source: By Inside EPA • Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2022

EPA has released for public comment a list of candidates to peer review its next triennial report on the environmental impacts of the renewable fuel standard (RFS), following two prior reports that saw the impacts of the program as somewhat negative, despite its statutory aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

In Federal Register notice published May 9, EPA invites comment on the list of 20 candidates, from which it will select up to nine to review the upcoming Third Triennial Report to Congress on the environmental impacts of the RFS.

The notice says, “After consideration of public comments on the candidate pool, EPA’s contractor, ERG, will select from this pool the final list of up to nine (9) peer reviewers, ensuring their combined expertise best spans the following disciplines: economics, engineering, agronomics, land use change, remote sensing, air quality, biogeochemistry, water quality, hydrology, conservation biology, limnology, and ecology.”

EPA will take comment for 15 days, until May 24.

The RFS requires refiners and importers of fuel to blend increasing volumes of biofuel into the fuel supply in order to cut GHGs. Conventional, corn-based ethanol must attain a 20 percent cut relative to unblended gasoline, advanced biofuel including biodiesel a 50 percent cut, and cellulosic ethanol a 60 percent cut.

But environmental groups are increasingly skeptical of the program’s true ability to curb GHGs, especially from corn ethanol, and many also see adverse effects on water quality and species habitat.

EPA in the notice says the overarching findings of the first such report in 2011 were “(1) the environmental impacts of increased biofuel production and use were likely negative but limited in impact; (2) there was a potential for both positive and negative impacts in the future; and (3) [statutory] goals for biofuels production could be achieved with minimal environmental impacts if best practices were used and if technologies advanced to facilitate the use of second generation biofuel feedstocks (corn stover, perennial grasses, woody biomass, algae, and waste).”

The second report in 2018 reached largely similar conclusions, EPA says.

Biofuels groups have objected to EPA’s low estimates of GHG savings achieved by the RFS, pointing to recent estimates that find the GHG savings of corn ethanol much larger, of the order of 40 percent or more.

But one recent study finds corn ethanol likely increases GHG emissions and other pollution because of land-use change. Study author Tyler Lark, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the list of 20 candidates to review the triennial report, and may face strong opposition to his candidacy from biofuels groups who have harshly criticized his methods.

  1. Jacob N. Barney, Virginia Tech 2. Steven T. Berry, Yale University 3. Sarah C. Davis, Ohio University 4. Bernard A. Engel, Purdue University 5. Jason D. Hill, University of Minnesota 6. S. Kent Hoekman, Desert Research Institute 7. Atul K. Jain, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 8. Stephen R. Kaffka, University of California, Davis 9. Mary Kombolias, Agrafa Solutions LLC 10. Lyubov A. Kurkalova, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University 11. Tyler J. Lark, University of Wisconsin-Madison 12. Ruopi Li, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale 13. Chris Malins, Cerulogy Consulting, UK 14. Nathan Parker, Arizona State University 15. John M. Reilly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 16. Timothy D. Searchinger, Princeton University 17. Aaron Smith, University of California, Davis 18. Yang Song, University of Arizona 19. Farzad Taheripour, Purdue University 20. Bin Yang, Washington State University, Tri-Cities