Upton, Waxman seek answers on renewables and energy security

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013

House energy leaders this month are continuing a review of the renewable fuel standard, the federal mandate that requires refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year into the nation’s motor fuel supply by 2022.

In a white paper released Friday, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked for answers about how the renewable fuel standard has helped boost energy security. The duo laid out six questions and asked stakeholders to respond.

The white paper is the fourth in a series that the energy leaders have released this year on different aspects of the standard. Upton and Waxman plan to use the information gathered as the basis for a series of hearings later this summer on the standard.

“It has been more than five years since the RFS was last revised, and there is now a wealth of actual implementation experience with its use,” Upton and Waxman wrote. “In some respects, the RFS has unfolded as expected, but in others it has not.”

In this most recent paper, the leaders wrote that the renewable fuel standard has contributed to U.S. energy security “by providing an affordable domestically produced alternative to oil.”

They noted, though, that the energy makeup of the nation has greatly changed since 2007, when the standard was last revised to its current levels. Gasoline demand is down due to increased efficiency in vehicles, while domestic oil and natural gas production has increased. Oil imports have fallen from 60 percent of the U.S. market to about 40 percent between 2005 and 2012.

“The assumptions of falling domestic supply and rising demand have given way to a reality that is precisely the converse” of 2007 projections, Waxman and Upton wrote.

The leaders posed questions on how vulnerable the United States is to major oil supply and price disruptions, to what degree the RFS has helped lower oil imports, and how the RFS fits into the new energy makeup of the country. They also asked stakeholders to weigh in on the impact of the RFS on oil prices and how the standard could be changed to further enhance energy security.

Previous white papers have addressed ethanol’s greenhouse gas emissions, the technically feasible amount of ethanol that can be used in the nation’s motor fuel supply, and the RFS’s impacts on agriculture and livestock production. The answers have so far reflected the wide divide between the biofuels industry and groups representing oil, livestock and environmental interests over whether the standard should continue at its current levels (Greenwire, May 29).