EPA switches course on new feedstocks in fuel standard

Source: Amanda Peterka • E&E  • Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On the heels of opposition from the environmental community, U.S. EPA today withdrew a rule that would have added four new feedstocks to the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The direct final rule, proposed in early January, would have allowed advanced biofuels made from camelina oil, energy cane, giant reed and napiergrass to qualify under the yearly obligations set by the standard. It also would have opened the standard to biomass-based jet fuel and certain renewable gasolines made from crop residues and yard, food and municipal solid wastes.

But in a notice posted today in the Federal Register, the agency said it is withdrawing the rule after receiving “adverse comment.” EPA had proposed the initial rule without taking public comment, describing it as a “noncontroversial” action.

“We applaud the EPA for their decision to reconsider allowing these feedstocks to meet the RFS,” said Michal Rosenoer, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “This is a huge win for the environment and a good step towards reconsidering what should qualify as an advanced biofuel. … The biofuel feedstocks in question would have done serious damage to natural ecosystems and increased environmental degradation.”

Friends of the Earth was among a coalition of five environmental groups that submitted a comment in opposition to the rule. In a letter written Feb. 6, the groups said that including the feedstocks in the Renewable Fuel Standard would result in major land-use changes.

EPA, they said, had failed to explain how ramping up production of camelina, an oilseed crop that could be used to make biodiesel, would not result in significant land-use changes.

The groups also said EPA ignored an executive order that prohibits federal agencies from promoting the introduction and spread of invasive species. Giant reed and napiergrass are identified as invasive species in parts of the country, and neither camelina nor energy cane is native to the United States.

EPA also did not consider the total greenhouse gas impacts of qualifying certain corn-stover-based renewable fuels, the environmentalists said.

“We disagree with EPA’s view that these rules are noncontroversial actions,” the groups — Friends of the Earth, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Working Group, National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council — said in their letter.

In its rule, EPA determined that the feedstocks met the greenhouse gas reduction requirements in the RFS program.

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the ethanol trade group Renewable Fuels Association, said his group was still reviewing EPA’s decision but blasted the environmental groups for blocking the change.

“It is disappointing and confusing that the environmental lobby would attempt to stand in the way of the evolution toward new biofuel feedstocks,” he said. “It is also frustrating that a single adverse comment can derail EPA’s process of approving new feedstocks.”

EPA said it intends to address all comments in a subsequent final action that will not be open for public comment.

The airline industry had supported the rule, saying it would open up renewable jet fuel to the RFS credit-trading market.

Alternative fuel made from plants and waste fats is currently approved for use in jet engines in blends of up to 50 percent. The rule would have included aviation fuel in the RFS’s definition of renewable diesel, allowing it to qualify under EPA’s credit-trading system for renewable fuels.

“Doing so helps level the playing field and encourages the production of greater quantities of sustainable alternative aviation fuel,” said a coalition of groups and companies that included the Algal Biomass Organization and Boeing Co.