Play all our cards on climate, including biodiesel

Source: By Byron Dorgan, The Hill • Posted: Friday, November 20, 2015

Flexing our global leadership, the U.S. has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is an ambitious yet achievable goal for protecting future generations from the consequences of climate change, and accomplishing it will require aggressive action.

Like a smart poker player, we have to capitalize on the good cards we have.

One of those is biodiesel, a renewable fuel made from recycled cooking grease, plant oils, and animal fats that packs an unusually powerful punch in cutting pollution. According to the EPA, every gallon of biodiesel we burn instead of petroleum diesel reduces carbon emissions by 57 percent to 86 percent. Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine, and particularly when used with new advanced diesel technologies, the environmental performance is unparalleled.

It is precisely the kind of tool we need to make a difference in our effort to reduce carbon in a practical, cost-effective way. And the Administration can do much more to fully take advantage of biodiesel’s promise.

The EPA recently unveiled a proposal for establishing biodiesel volumes under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the program created under President George W. Bush to require growing volumes of renewable fuel to be blended into the nation’s fuel stream.

The RFS doesn’t just reduce emissions, it helps consumers by diversifying the fuels market, and it creates jobs and strengthens our energy security by developing new domestic energy sources. But it is particularly critical for our climate fight because the transportation sector accounts for more than one-fourth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions – second only to electricity.

To truly address climate change, we need much more progress with the cars and trucks we drive, and the RFS is the best policy we have to clean up our fuels. In addition, it is a solution that doesn’t need approval from a gridlocked Congress. The RFS was created 10 years ago with overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress, and the administration has broad discretion to maximize its effectiveness now with the stroke of a pen. For biodiesel, the law gives the EPA wide authority to increase standards to require significantly more biodiesel to be blended into our diesel supplies.

Under the pending EPA proposal, biodiesel volumes would grow, but only slightly above the status quo. The EPA has proposed requiring 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2016 and 1.9 billion gallons in 2017. That’s not much more than we’re already using, and there is plenty of existing U.S. capacity to produce significantly more.

If we instead increased biodiesel use by about 350 million gallons annually through 2025, biodiesel would account for about 9 percent of diesel consumption. But it would provide enough carbon reduction to achieve 18 percent of the entire transportation sector’s share of our U.N. goal.

The recent growth of biodiesel as a low-carbon alternative fuel represents a major success of the RFS and of this Administration’s goals for reducing our dependence on oil and cutting emissions. The RFS has spurred investment, expansion and hiring in the industry. While biodiesel was and is often overshadowed by corn ethanol in the renewable fuels debate, its growth from a niche fuel just a decade ago to a commercial-scale industry with a U.S market of nearly 2 billion gallons should be celebrated and supported.

Most importantly, it should be encouraged with smart policy that continues biodiesel’s expansion and helps us achieve our shared goals for a healthier environment, a competitive fuel marketplace, and a stronger economy.

Byron Dorgan served in the Senate from 1992 to 2011 and in the House from 1981 to 1992. He is currently senior policy adviser at Arent Fox, whose clients include the National Biodiesel Board.