ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said her agency is anxious to release the final renewable fuel standard (RFS) volumes and noted that it will not be identical to the rule originally proposed last fall.
McCarthy said biofuels remain a key part of the Administration's all-of-the-above energy strategy, but it also became important to recognize that the RFS needed to be set on a more realistic and manageable path for growth.
"EPA needs to make sure (that the RFS is) implementable, taking in the realities of the fuel market," she said, pointing to ethanol blend wall and infrastructure concerns.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he has been telling EPA that it needs to factor in more recent gasoline data, and McCarthy said her agency definitely will be doing so.
The level of gasoline demand had an impact on the proposed RFS rule, and the changes will be reflected in the final rule, she explained.
EPA is now sorting through more than 200,000 comments on the renewable volume levels. McCarthy said the comments have provided substantial amounts of data to aid the agency in its final recommendations.
McCarthy said EPA had to consider how aggressive the RFS rule needed to be, but the agency also couldn't set expectations within the rule-making that it couldn't defend. Every time EPA sets these standards, EPA is litigated, she explained.
"This rule needs to be legally correct and justifiable in court," she said. "We tried to do a good job of identifying problems and seeking comments. The problem legally was that we could not get anywhere near (mandated) levels of RFS this year because of blend wall challenges and energy demand."
McCarthy said the agency's goal is to issue the final proposal in late spring or early summer.
The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing last Tuesday to examine the role advanced biofuels play in the rural economy and to gather evidence to persuade EPA not to follow through on its proposal to reduce the RFS.
Witnesses from different segments of the industry agreed that EPA should "stay the course" on the mandated biofuel levels set in the 2007 energy legislation that created the RFS instead of cutting total biofuel blending from the 18.15 billion gal. specified for this year to 15.21 billion gal.
On April 9, agricultural groups met with Janet McCabe, acting EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, to outline their concerns over the agency's RFS proposal.
Participants in the meeting coordinated by the 25x'25 Alliance included representatives of the American Soybean Assn., CropLife America, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Corn Growers Assn., American Council on Renewable Energy, Environmental & Energy Study Institute and CNH, an agricultural equipment manufacturing firm.
The groups emphasized the economic, environmental, national security and human health benefits of biofuels and urged EPA to abandon its proposal to reduce RFS blending targets.
Other topics discussed during the meeting included emerging conversion technologies that will enable the significant amount of biomass feedstocks available in the U.S. to produce as much as 80-100 billion gal. of biofuels annually, with much of that biomass supply produced on marginal or underutilized land.