The Waiting Game on Renewable Fuel Standard

Source: By Emily Skor, Inside Sources • Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Environmental Protection Agency officials in charge of setting America’s biofuel targets for the coming year recently closed their windows, locked their doors and hunkered down for some serious deliberation. Now that the official public comment period is closed, the law gives regulators until November 30 to determine what share of our 2017 fuel mix will come from ethanol and other homegrown biofuels.

The EPA hasn’t always met the deadline, but — so far — officials seem optimistic, which could be very good news if they follow the law and put America on the path to cleaner air, greater energy security and more renewable choices at the gas pump.

Thanks to the Renewable Fuel Standard, about 10 percent of the fuel we pump at the gas station already comes from renewable resources. Over the last decade, the switch to biofuels has cut carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector by roughly half a billion metric tons, the equivalent of taking more than 124 million cars off of the road. It’s also caused refineries to switch out cancer-causing gasoline additives like MTBE and benzene for clean-burning ethanol, which boosts performance without the same risk of toxic emissions and groundwater contamination.

Even automakers are on board, with the last of the Big Three in Detroit now explicitly approving the use of higher blends, like E15 (15 percent ethanol), in modern cars. Automotive engineers appreciate that the octane boost provided by ethanol means they can design engines for greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions. According to the EPA, any vehicle manufactured after 2001 can be fueled up with E15.

Undeniably, in 2005, when the Renewable Fuel Standard was first signed into law, concerns about climate change were secondary for many lawmakers who saw that U.S. reliance on just one kind of fuel gave foreign nations an easy way to threaten the American economy. Policymakers sought to cultivate a homegrown energy sector that could compete with imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

It worked. Today, America imports half as much oil as it did in 2005, and competition from biofuels is helping to weaken the leverage of foreign oil cartels. The shift has also made a real difference at home. America is not yet immune to price spikes in the global oil market, but consumers have saved as much as 50 cents to $1.50 per gallon on fuel during tough times.

Of course, change this significant doesn’t happen overnight, and there’s no shortage of objections from those invested in fossil fuels. Some even claim that ethanol production uses too much land compared to drilling for oil. The truth is that new technologies and greater efficiency in U.S. agriculture have allowed farmers to grow more on less land than we cultivated a century ago, or even 10 years ago when the Renewable Fuel Standard was enacted. As a result, we’re able to reduce foreign oil dependence, mitigate climate change emissions, and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs using renewable resources right here at home.

The question now is whether officials at the EPA are still committed to the transition to clean, homegrown energy. A draft rule circulated by the agency in May would once again waive core requirements under the RFS based on the oil industry’s unwillingness to secure and distribute renewable fuels, despite their widespread availability and affordability. Thirty-nine senators from Connecticut to Hawaii have spoken out against EPA’s proposal, reminding regulators that Congress rejected loopholes in the law to avoid that very outcome. They joined thousands of workers, farmers, environmental advocates, veterans and consumers of all stripes that submitted their own comments, urging the agency to increase biofuel blends and keep America on a path to true energy security.

Faced with the choice between going green and bowing to pressure from the oil industry, a wrong decision by this administration could change the Renewable Fuel Standard from a consumer success into another leg of the fossil fuel monopoly on our transportation sector. So now begins the waiting game, with regulators at work behind closed doors and the future of renewable energy in the balance.

Emily Skor is CEO of Growth Energy