Lawmakers to question long-term plans for RFS

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A House subcommittee this week will look at the long-term future of the renewable fuel standard, already under plenty of present-day strain.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment plans to focus on advanced biofuels at a hearing Friday.

Advanced biofuels are a relatively small part of the RFS, which requires the blending of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline supply. The 2018 volume requirement for advanced biofuels is 4.29 billion gallons, compared with 15 billion gallons for conventional ethanol and 19.29 billion gallons overall for renewable fuel.

But advocates for renewables say advanced biofuels are a big part of the industry’s future and should receive a bigger push from the federal government if the RFS is ever to drift away from the dominance of corn-based ethanol.

Advanced biofuels include fuel made from a variety of material, included recycled fats and oils, algae, and various parts of plants.

“The RFS has made progress in developing advanced biofuels and delivering them to American consumers,” subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said in a statement announcing the hearing.

“While conventional, corn ethanol commands much of the debate around the RFS, we cannot forget other parts of the program as we explore potential reforms to make the RFS better reflect our evolving transportation fuel needs,” Shimkus said.

Shimkus has been working with committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) toward a legislative compromise on revamping the RFS, but the effort hasn’t gained much traction. Ethanol advocates and critics remain at odds over whether the government should require blending of biofuels at all and, if so, whether a cap should be placed on conventional ethanol.

Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress in the last few years to limit the RFS, such as by capping the maximum amount of ethanol in gasoline at 9.7 percent.

Shimkus has advocated for a greater emphasis on congressional action, rather than regulatory moves by EPA.

At a hearing by the subcommittee in April on EPA’s budget, Shimkus asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about plans for the RFS after 2022, when Congress is supposed to give the agency full control of setting the renewable fuel volumes every year.

Pruitt said the agency is evaluating its plans for then, and he added that officials and Congress should consider sources of octane — including ethanol — to help the automotive industry meet fuel efficiency standards. That’s an issue Shimkus and other lawmakers have promoted as a potential solution to the biofuels battle (Greenwire, April 13).

Shimkus, who’s been trying for a few years to broker compromise on the RFS, asked Pruitt whether he planned to move forward with administrative actions or “allow Congress time to work on a legislative solution.”

And he lamented that the current dynamic hasn’t brought competing interests any closer.

“Every time someone is hauled down to the White House, the other side goes crazy,” Shimkus said.

Advocates for next-generation biofuels have been riled by some RFS policies at EPA.

The Advanced Biofuels Association sued EPA in May over the granting of “hardship” waivers from blending requirements to an increasing number of small refineries.

Taken together, the association said, the moves drive down prices for renewable fuel credits, which acts as a disincentive to blending and threatens the integrity of the RFS.