EPA official faces bipartisan grief over RFS

Source: Marc Heller, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cellulosic ethanol makers are losing confidence in U.S. EPA since the agency set renewable fuel levels lower than congressional mandates for 2014 to 2017, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said today.

Boxer, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, rapped EPA’s use of its waiver authority under the renewable fuel standard program to set lower-than-mandated goals, at an oversight hearing on the program.

“It’s a mixed signal to folks out there thinking about making investments,” said Boxer, responding to testimony by EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, Janet McCabe.

McCabe told the committee the agency is committed to increased use of biofuels that will reduce carbon emissions, even as the agency used its waiver authority in November to set levels lower than Congress mandated in the 2007 law. The RFS sets renewable fuel levels through 2022.

McCabe said the levels Congress set “simply were not achievable.” The agency adopts a waiver only to the point it determines is necessary, she said, and has cited increased consumption of gasoline and diesel among other factors.

EPA set the renewable fuel level for 2016 at 18.11 billion gallons, for instance, which was more than it was in an earlier proposal but still less than the congressionally set goal of 22.25 billion gallons.

The agency faces competing pressure in Congress from Democrats who support the RFS and want goals set higher and Republicans — such as committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) — who want to repeal it.

McCabe faced bipartisan criticism for the agency’s delay in releasing updates to RFS levels, which resulted in three years’ worth of standards being set at once. That only causes uncertainty in the industry, Boxer said.

Inhofe pressed McCabe to explain why EPA missed its deadline. She cited the “very complex” nature of the fuel supply and “divergent views” within the industry about what levels can be met.

McCabe told the committee EPA intends to propose the next renewable fuel levels, for 2017, on time but added, “I don’t control the world.”