Senate Dems say RFS cut would undermine climate change goals

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 10, 2014

A pair of Senate Democrats yesterday urged President Obama to reverse proposed cuts to the nation’s biofuel blending mandate.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a letter to the president that the administration is in danger of undermining its climate change goals if it goes through with the proposed reductions.

EPA last November proposed to scale back the nation’s 2014 mandates for conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels an overall 16 percent compared to the levels Congress anticipated when it passed into law the renewable fuel standard in 2007. A final version of the rule currently at the White House for review is expected to increase the targets but still come in under the RFS levels.

“If adopted, this rule would increase, not decrease, carbon pollution,” Markey and Boxer wrote in the letter yesterday. “The RFS is a critical piece of our nation’s climate mitigation policies.”

The senators’ message echoes concerns made by the advanced biofuels industry over the last few months about EPA’s proposal (Greenwire, Sept. 22). Markey and Boxer cite a recent analysis by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a biofuels trade group, that found the rule as proposed would increase net carbon pollution by 28.2 million metric tons — or the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of nearly 6 million cars — in 2014 compared to what could be achieved by retaining the renewable fuel standard.

The senators also accused EPA of relying on a “questionable reading” of the renewable fuel standard in its reasoning behind the proposed decrease. EPA based its proposal on the “blend wall,” the term used to represent the 10 percent saturation level of ethanol in the fuel market, which it said limited the amount of ethanol that it could mandate be used in gasoline this year. The agency also cited a slower-than-expected ramp-up in the nation’s domestic advanced biofuels industry.

Markey and Boxer wrote that EPA’s rule would allow oil companies to escape their RFS obligations and warned that it could drive investment in the advanced biofuels sector overseas.

“EPA’s proposed rule would not only increase carbon pollution, but would also derail our efforts to attract investment to critical U.S. innovation markets and drive the development of fuels that further reduce carbon pollution in the long-term,” they wrote.

Biofuels groups applauded the letter.

“This is a pretty important statement,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council. “Two Democratic leaders on the issues of alternative fuels, innovation and carbon — from the committee of jurisdiction — are telling the president that he is the wrong place on the RFS.”

Opponents of the renewable fuel standard today pushed back against the letter.

“If the senators really were sincere about the environmental impact of the RFS as opposed to their rote attack on the oil industry, they would be better served by reading EPA data indicating corn ethanol actually increases GHG emissions compared to gasoline or that EPA and [National Academy of Sciences] studies show that the higher RFS volumes raise ozone levels,” Stephen Brown, vice president and counsel for Tesoro Corp., said via email.

Some environmental groups have said that EPA’s proposal would lead to less carbon dioxide emissions. Lowering the corn ethanol mandate by 1.4 billion gallons, the level in EPA’s November proposal, would reduce emissions by the equivalent of taking 580,000 cars off the road, according to a May report by the Environmental Working Group that has been faulted by a group of scientists (Greenwire, May 29).

New campaign launched

EPA’s final rule could be released any day, but some industry observers expect that the agency will not issue it until after the midterm elections. As the White House continues its review of the rule, a pro-RFS coalition of biofuels, agricultural and national security interests today launched a new campaign highlighting campaign contributions from the oil industry.

The ads, which are running digitally in Capitol Hill publications, say that oil industry-affiliated interests have spent $1.1 trillion since 2008 in lobbying Congress and campaign contributions. They urge Obama to not “cave in” to oil lobbying and reduce the renewable fuel standard. Oil industry trade groups have been calling for the full repeal of the renewable fuel standard by Congress.

The ads are paid for by the Fuels America coalition and will run for a week.