Senators tell EPA to heed 2007 law on RFS mandates 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015

A bipartisan group of 37 senators urged U.S. EPA yesterday to set biofuel mandates that reflect the levels Congress intended when it wrote the renewable fuel standard into law in 2007.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the senators said the agency’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to lower fuel targets for 2014 “falls outside” the authority that Congress allowed through the 2007 RFS.

The 2007 standard mandated that refiners use increasing amounts of renewable fuels, including advanced biofuels, in petroleum gasoline and diesel.

“The intent was a forward-looking policy that drives future investments in both biofuels production and drives future investments in both biofuels production and the infrastructure necessary to bring these biofuels to market,” the senators wrote.

In a proposal released in late 2013, EPA proposed to ratchet down both the requirements for conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels in 2014. The agency argued that there were technical limits to the amount of ethanol that can be used in gasoline and that the advanced biofuels sector had grown more slowly than expected.

Supporters of the standard objected to the proposed cuts, arguing that the RFS has increased energy independence and reduced the greenhouse gas footprint of the transportation fuel sector. Several of the senators signing onto yesterday’s letter last year called on EPA to reverse the previously proposed cuts.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who led the letter with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), announced the new effort yesterday at a keynote speech at an American Council on Renewable Energy policy summit in Washington, D.C.

“We need volume requirements that implement the RFS consistent with the law, so that the RFS continues to promote investment in advanced biofuels and the infrastructure necessary to get the fuels into the market,” he said then. “Biofuel producers need federal policies that promote stable, secure energy.”

Biofuel industry advocates applauded the letter. Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, called it a “clear message” to EPA “that we must have a strong, a robust renewable fuel standard.”

EPA recently announced, in a settlement with oil industry groups, that it will propose a new rule setting the targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 by June 1. The agency has already said that it would propose volumes for 2014 that reflect the amount of renewable fuel that was actually produced — rather than the targets Congress wrote into the RFS (E&ENews PM, April 10).

EPA has maintained that it’s committed to getting the RFS program “back on track.” But aside from announcing its plans for the 2014 standard, the agency has not given any hints as to whether it will again propose cuts for 2015 and 2016.

House bill aims to expand E15 use

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of House members introduced legislation aimed a lifting what biofuel producers say is a barrier to adding more ethanol in the marketplace.

That measure, which is a companion to a Senate bill introduced earlier this year by Grassley and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would extend a waiver from gasoline volatility requirements to E15, or gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) introduced the House version Wednesday. Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and David Young (R-Iowa) are original co-sponsors.

The volatility requirements are applicable during the summer ozone season in areas that meet the ozone standard.

The bill’s backers say that EPA’s decision to not grant a waiver to E15 has limited its expansion in a market that’s currently dominated by E10 — gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol — which has a congressionally mandated waiver. Some biofuel producers go as far as to call it the single largest barrier to more E15 entering the market.

“The EPA should be consistent in the way it treats different fuel blends as a matter of fairness and to give consumers more options for fueling their vehicles,” Grassley said in a statement.

The “Fuel Choice and Deregulation Act of 2015” is supported by the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Commonwealth Agri-Energy and the U.S. Energy Security Council.

EPA, though, has disputed the notion that the lack of a waiver for E15 is a big factor behind the slow uptake of E15 in the country. It is not an issue, for example, in the nine major metropolitan areas with the worst ozone pollution that the Clean Air Act says must follow a stricter set of standards and use reformulated gasoline.

Those areas account for between 30 and 40 percent of the nation’s fuel supply, according to EPA.

“So 30 to 40 percent of our fuel supply, this is not an issue, including places like Chicago,” EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality Director Christopher Grundler recently told reporters outside an ethanol industry conference. “So I ask myself, is this really the most important barrier to more ethanol use?”

He also noted that, under the Clean Air Act, governors have the ability to petition EPA over the issue. As of February, the agency hadn’t received any petitions.