World-Herald editorial: EPA relents on ethanol but still falls short

Source: By The Omaha World Herald Editorial Board • Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A new EPA rule requires that more than 18 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into U.S. gasoline in 2016.

That means Americans will wind up using more ethanol and biodiesel made in the Midlands. It’s better-than-expected news for the nation’s top two ethanol producing states, Iowa and Nebraska.

But it’s not good enough. While the EPA’s 18-billion-gallon goal is an increase from what the agency first suggested in June, it’s still more than 4 billion gallons short of mandates Congress set in a 2007 law.

At least the EPA is requiring more renewable fuel than it originally proposed, although that’s little comfort to an ethanol industry that contributes almost $5 billion a year to Nebraska’s economy. Or to the industry’s investors and innovators, who see the goal posts shifting.

EPA officials say they used a lever in the law allowing them to reduce required amounts of renewable fuel when the targets didn’t prove realistic. They say the nation’s fuel supply has nearly reached the limit of how much corn-based ethanol can safely be used by the majority of vehicles.

The agency blames production and technological delays in the development of many next-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. But bureaucratic fiddling with fuel requirements bears responsibility for that situation, too. The unnecessary uncertainty has held up as much as $19 billion in potential investments in these new, more advanced fuels, the agricultural news service DTN reports.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to reduce our dependence on oil from those who seek to do us harm. But some of his actions contradict that, denying a pipeline from Canada and now throttling back the renewable fuel standard.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, got it right when he said, “It’s unfortunate that this administration, which claims to be for renewable and clean energy, would stand in the way of the production and use of more renewable fuels.”

Nobody got all they wanted out of the EPA’s new renewable fuels rule, not the oil companies in their odd alignment with some environmentalists and not Midwestern farmers.

Courts may have to settle the differences. Farmers and agricultural industry groups talked Monday of suing the Environmental Protection Agency for moving beyond its legal, statutory boundaries.

It’s reminiscent of the EPA’s “waters of the U.S.” regulatory overreach, which landed the agency in court this fall.

Congress writes the laws. The EPA should follow them.