Senator wants EPA to defend renewable fuel standard

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2016

One of Congress’ most vocal critics of the federal renewable fuel standard is calling on officials to defend the program at a hearing tomorrow, after the Government Accountability Office said the policy won’t meet climate change goals anytime soon.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, scheduled a hearing for tomorrow to highlight the reports. U.S. EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation is scheduled to testify.

In the reports, released Monday, the GAO said the RFS isn’t likely to meet goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in part because advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol aren’t being produced in the volumes the law envisioned (Greenwire, Nov. 29).

“The renewable fuel standard mandates are unrealistic and have caused higher fuel prices for consumers,” Lankford said in a news release. “The RFS mandate is unattainable, so it has led to arbitrary EPA regulations, uncertainty and great challenges for refiners and biofuel producers.”

Lankford also called for the program’s repeal, although Congress hasn’t shown much appetite for dismantling ethanol mandates that benefit farmers.

The GAO said production shortfalls for advanced biofuels have kept the RFS program heavily tilted toward corn ethanol, which doesn’t achieve the same level of carbon reduction as other renewable fuels.

One exception is biomass-based diesel (BBD), which has exceeded goals, the GAO said.

In its final rule earlier this month on renewable fuel volumes for 2017, EPA said increased volumes over several years show that “the RFS program is working to deliver steady, ambitious growth in the total amount of renewable fuel produced and used in the United States, consistent with congressional intent.”

But the agency also said the goals Congress set out for the long term aren’t achievable, except for BBD. The program, which started in 2006, sets target until 2022, after which EPA sets the volumes.

“Despite significant increases in renewable fuel use in the United States, real-world constraints, such as the slower than expected development of the cellulosic biofuel industry and constraints in the marketplace related to supply of certain biofuels to consumers, have made the timeline laid out by Congress for the growth in renewable fuel use (other than for BBD) impossible to achieve,” EPA said in the final rule.

Schedule: The hearing is Thursday, Dec. 1, at 2:30 p.m. in 342 Dirksen.

Witness: EPA acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe and Frank Rusco, director of natural resources and environment, Government Accountability Office.