Obama administration should build on biodiesel’s success

Source: By Byron Dorgan and Richard Lugar, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2016

There are plenty of government programs that don’t work out quite how they’re expected to — and they get plenty of attention. What’s often overlooked are the many cases where good things happen because of good public policy.

That is the case with legislation that both of us worked on for many years in the U.S. Senate. Along with our colleagues, we created a policy that has helped to create a growing renewable fuels industry in the United States. And over the past decade it has been a great success.

We still support and understand the importance of fossil fuels. They will remain important for decades to come. But we also believe that we have improved American energy security and our environment by creating alternative fuel supplies that are both renewable and clean.

In 2005, Congress passed a major energy bill creating the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which was included as an amendment from Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D. The policy stimulated the creation of a renewable fuels industry by providing incentives and new requirements to help it get off the ground.

Two years later, in another energy bill, the RFS was expanded, in part to include a specific standard addressing the diesel fuel market, not just gasoline. It focused on boosting the production of biodiesel and was based on legislation (the American Fuels Act of 2006) from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and a then-freshman senator from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama.

To be sure, much has happened in the energy field since that time. New supplies of natural gas and oil have been found in the U.S. and new methods of extracting that energy have been developed. It has resulted in additional supplies of fossil fuels that will be available for decades to come.

But the growth in domestic oil and gas has in no way reduced the urgency with which we should seek alternative fuels. Regardless of where it is produced, oil is a global commodity with markets that are shaped by geopolitical forces beyond our control. If we continue our dependence on these markets, it will be at great risk to our energy security. Additionally, we face a new urgency to address climate change by emphasizing a lower carbon future in the way we use energy.

Fortunately, the success of the biodiesel industry provides a ready answer. It’s a clean fuel that can be produced here in America with a variety of abundant, renewable resources. It can be used in existing diesel engines and, depending on how it’s made, cuts carbon emissions by 80 percent or more compared with petroleum diesel.

Under the RFS, the EPA sets biodiesel volume standards each year based on industry capacity and other factors. The current pending proposal to be finalized in November would set a volume requirement at 2.0 billion gallons in 2018.  But the industry can clearly do much more than that.

As original authors of the program along with President Obama, we hope this administration will seize on that potential and continue the progress we’ve created with greater production of biodiesel. Unlike so many other issues in Washington these days, building a renewable fuels industry has been bipartisan. Creating fuels that are renewable and fuels that reduce carbon is good public policy and a good investment in our future.

Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who served in Senate Democratic leadership for 16 years, was a senior member of the Senate Energy Committee and is now a senior policy adviser at Arent Fox LLP, whose clients include the National Biodiesel Board. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, was chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Senate Foreign Relations committees, and now is president of The Lugar Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.