Lawmakers press McCarthy over RFS delay 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lawmakers both for and against the renewable fuel standard yesterday gave U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy heat over the agency’s continued delay in issuing annual biofuel mandates under the program.

At a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, lawmakers in favor of the program said the agency’s failure to set the targets had caused uncertainty in the industry. Political opponents of the program told the administrator that the agency’s implementation of it was hurting refiners and that the RFS itself was unrealistic.

“When can we expect to see something that gives some real relief to this RFS mandate that simply can’t be met?” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked.

Amid the criticism, McCarthy acknowledged EPA’s difficulties in shaping the annual requirements and said the agency remained committed to “moving this issue forward.”

Congress passed the renewable fuel standard in 2007 as a means of lowering the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and boosting energy independence. It mandated specific levels of conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels that refiners must use, but gave EPA certain authorities to waive the requirements on a yearly basis.

For the first time since the RFS was put into place, EPA in late 2013 proposed to scale back the mandates for both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels.

The proposal received criticism from the biofuels industry, which said EPA was lowballing production estimates, and from the oil industry, which wanted to see even greater cuts to the program. The year ended without EPA setting a final 2014 biofuel mandate; the agency instead announced that it would attempt to combine the mandates for 2014, 2015 and 2016 in a single rulemaking.

“I wish it could have happened last year,” McCarthy said yesterday in defense of the agency. “The approach that EPA took received considerable comment, and so you’ll see something very soon in this spring that will address that issue and hopefully move us forward.”

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), who strongly supports the renewable fuel standard, said that his biggest concern was the “uncertainty attached to all this.” He invited McCarthy to Iowa to attend this summer’s Iowa State Fair, a yearly event that celebrates the state’s rural economy.

McCarthy declined to give a more specific timeline and did not offer any details about what a new rulemaking would contain. Last week, however, EPA’s transportation chief said the proposal would likely base at least the 2014 mandate on actual production levels (Greenwire, Feb. 20).

“I just want to make sure that we cross our t’s and dot our i’s,” McCarthy said. “I know we were not as successful last year as I would like us to be, and I really want to get this out in a strong way.”

McCarthy also faced criticism for past inaccurate predictions about how much biofuel would be produced and how much transportation fuel would be consumed.

Several lawmakers said they were also concerned that EPA was prioritizing other actions — namely, its proposed greenhouse gas regulations for the power plant sector — over the renewable fuel standard.

“While the agency has embarked on its global warming agenda and other regulatory overreaches, it has dropped the ball badly on many of its nondiscretionary duties,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said. “Most notably, EPA has repeatedly missed the statutorily imposed deadlines for implementing the renewable fuel standard.”

Whitfield added that EPA’s failure to set the targets has caused biofuel companies to go out of business.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who last Congress led a task force to examine the RFS, said he felt that EPA had even prioritized other renewable fuels actions before setting the annual volume requirements. He slammed EPA for first approving a new program to certify that biofuel coming from Argentina complies with the requirements of the RFS.

“Is this a point of one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing?” Shimkus asked.

The U.S. biodiesel industry has also criticized EPA for the Argentina decision, arguing that it would result in more Argentinean biodiesel coming into the U.S. market (Greenwire, Jan. 30).

McCarthy said the agency’s decision was “a little bit misunderstood” and that the new program would be more stringent than the requirements previously in place for Argentinean biodiesel. “We think it’s a model moving forward,” she said.