RFS at 15: What does the future hold?

Source: By Dustin Hoffmann, Iowa Agribusiness • Posted: Monday, August 10, 2020

Cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. Photo courtesy of DuPont.

It was fifteen years on Saturday, August the 8th, since then-President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It was that act that gave birth to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). It’s been a decade and a half of victories and challenges. Even though it seems that the pressure against the RFS has never been stronger, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says that we have come a long way since 2005, and they are looking for the RFS to be strong into the next fifteen years and beyond.

During a press conference on Thursday, RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper looked back on the beginnings of the Renewable Fuels Standard. He talks about the work done to get the RFS into the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Cooper talked about the growth of the industry because of the guarantees in the RFS. He also highlighted the advantages we have witnessed economically and environmentally.

RFA Chief Economist Scott Richman talked about the gains made in the industry since the implementation of the RFS. The growth in jobs and production has been very positive.

Geoff Cooper says that because of the success the RFS has had, it continues to be a target for big oil and its allies. Cooper says the indecisiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and its outright disregard of the RFS by granting small refinery exemptions, continue to be a thorn in the industry’s side.

Cooper says the RFS is, “not done yet.” He said there are critics out there who believe that 2023 marks the end of the Renewable Fuels Standard. Cooper says that the RFS is only, “getting started.” He says the RFS will further benefit the environment and be an economic plus for farmers and rural communities.

A hurdle to that 2022 benchmark sits in the seat of power. The Trump administration campaigned on supporting rural America. The President won with overwhelming rural support. However, the promises made to the biofuels industry have been largely empty. There is no dispute that the President lived up to the promise of getting E-15 available year-round for consumers, but there has been little for the industry to celebrate beyond that during this administration. This can be no more plainly witnessed than by his EPA Administrators blatantly disregarding the Congressional rule of the RFS, or by ignoring and circumventing Federal Court decisions on biofuels.

This is an EPA that answers to the President. Many in the industry have called on the President to use his authority to get the EPA back on track if he truly intends to live up to his promises to the biofuels sector. The RFS currently sets volume targets through 2022. However, the law gives EPA the discretion to set the targets in the future.

There is a chance that the Trump Administration could still be in Washington in 2022, and the history the administration has with the industry is tenuous at best. If the RFS is going to survive, grow, and continue to be viable in the future, it needs to have the administration’s support. Cooper says they are working hard to drive that message home. Cooper thinks that the EPA will not be taking up the future of the RFS until after the 2020 elections.

The road has been bumpy, but positive. RFS supporters are ready to carry the statute well into the future. However, big oil has deep pockets and is not going to stop fighting the RFS in the future. It is going to take a lot of hard work from the industry and its supporters to bring on the next fifteen years of the RFS.