Lawmakers fault EPA, say RFS decision leads to more uncertainty

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014

Lawmakers on both sides of the debate over the renewable fuel standard today said U.S. EPA’s surprise decision to pull back on a proposal scaling back the nation’s biofuel mandates only increases the uncertainty over the future of the policy.

EPA earlier today announced it would not finalize by the end of the year its contentious proposal from last November, citing the large number of public comments it received and ongoing consideration of issues raised by stakeholders. EPA’s proposal had called for a 16 percent cut in total renewable fuels compared to the levels set by Congress in 2007 when it enacted the RFS.

The agency said it would instead take action on the 2014 renewable fuel mandates next year and potentially combine them with mandates for 2015 and 2016 (Greenwire, Nov. 21).

Strong congressional supporters of the RFS from the Midwest said they worried about the effect of the uncertainty created by EPA’s announcement today on biofuel producers who look to the standard to provide a market for their product.

“Today’s announcement leave the future of ethanol, biodiesel and other advanced biofuels up in the air,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. “The RFS has played a major role in keeping the rural economy strong, and continued inaction could put that in jeopardy.”

On the Senate side, ethanol champion Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the announcement “mixed news.” He applauded the agency’s decision to not finalize the rule but also said the “administration doesn’t deserve praise” for its lack of clarity over the future of the RFS.

He compared the RFS to the Keystone XL debate, saying it has been similarly fraught with “uncertainty, delay and indecision” on the part of the Obama administration.

According to the biofuels industry, EPA’s proposed rule and the delay in issuing final targets have cut especially deeply into the bottom lines of producers working on projects to make biofuels out of feedstocks other than corn. The biodiesel industry, for example, has experienced layoffs and shutdowns throughout the year.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, urged the Obama administration to work toward a new rule that would create “long-term certainty” for the advanced biofuels industry.

“I urge the administration to make this a priority,” she said, “and take a hard look at how this could seriously set back growth at a crucial time when tremendous progress is being made toward commercial-scale production.”

On the House side, opponents of the renewable fuel standard also said EPA’s announcement has done little more than further confuse the issue. By law, the agency was supposed to have finalized its targets for 2014 by Nov. 30 of last year.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) issued a joint statement lambasting the agency.

“Businesses and consumers have been waiting a year now for clarity and guidance from EPA, but this decision to completely abandon the 2014 targets only adds to the growing uncertainty and frustration,” the lawmakers wrote. “EPA cannot just choose to arbitrarily ignore the law and the deadlines established by Congress.”

Upton, Whitfield and Shimkus — who were part of a failed effort this Congress to reform the renewable fuel standard — added that today’s announcement “underscores the need to come together and find a practical, bipartisan solution.”

According to an industry source, EPA was scheduled to brief members of Congress on its decision this afternoon.

EPA’s decision is likely to provide more fuel to opponents of the RFS off Capitol Hill as well. Oil, livestock and environmental groups opposed to the RFS have already framed the agency’s announcement as an indication that the standard should be completely repealed.