RENEWABLE fuel advocates seemed to be playing defense on multiple fronts in recent weeks as opponents of corn-based ethanol challenged the renewable fuel standard (RFS) in both the regulatory and legislative arenas.
While the Environmental Protection Agency considered 2013 RFS required blending volumes, an influential congressman introduced a bill to repeal the standard itself, drawing praise from the petroleum sector while inflaming ethanol proponents.
EPA announced its proposed volume requirements in late January, setting a goal to blend 16.55 billion gal. of renewable fuels, including 1.28 billion gal. of biodiesel, 2.75 billion gal. of advanced biofuels and 14 million gal. of cellulosic ethanol (Feedstuffs, Feb. 4). The public comment period on the proposal closed April 7, and both sides of the biofuel debate weighed in.
Leading the charge for a robust ethanol-centric RFS was the Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA), which encouraged EPA to ignore the so-called "blend wall" for E10, a fuel blend with 10% ethanol. RFA also called for EPA to revise its proposed cellulosic standard to correspond with actual expected production volumes and to reduce the requirement for advanced biofuels due to a lack of sufficient quantities of sugarcane-based ethanol imports.
Cellulosic biofuel producer POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels supports EPA's 14 million gal. cellulosic goal and said the RFS requirements should "provide regulatory and market support consistent with congressional intent."
On the other hand, groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said EPA should reduce competition between the food and fuel sectors by altering the advanced biofuel requirement and adopting a "more judicious administration" of the total mandated biofuel volume.
"Cellulosic fuels still offer the best bet for replacing large amounts of oil without disrupting our food supplies," UCS senior scientist Jeremy Martin said.
UCS said the RFS mandate of 36 billion gal. of biofuels by 2022 will lead to "serious environmental and economic consequences that are not in harmony" with the climate, economic and energy security goals of the standard, namely because growth of the cellulosic biofuel industry has been delayed from what policy-makers envisioned when drafting the RFS in the first place.
"The RFS was designed to promote renewable fuels that don't compete with food supplies," Martin concluded. "We can't afford additional strains on our food supplies, especially when the drought is expected to continue through 2013."
While groups were submitting comments on EPA's proposed RFS volume, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) introduced a bill that would repeal the standard itself and a companion bill that would strip the RFS of its corn-based ethanol requirements.
"The federal government's creation of an artificial market for the ethanol industry has, quite frankly, triggered a domino effect that is hurting American consumers, energy producers, livestock producers, food manufacturers and retailers," Goodlatte said in a statement. "Extreme drought last summer and record corn prices made it clear that the RFS is not working."
Goodlatte said the RFS has diverted corn from livestock and food production, and higher prices for corn have ultimately driven up the cost of food at a time when the economy is struggling to recover from a long-term recession.
His RFS Elimination Act would eliminate the RFS, which he said would provide relief for livestock producers and food manufacturers.
Perhaps acknowledging that a repeal of the RFS is politically unlikely, Goodlatte also introduced the RFS Reform Act, which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, caps the volume of ethanol that can be blended into the fuel supply at 10% and requires EPA to set cellulosic blending requirements at current production levels.
RFA and other ethanol advocates pilloried the bill, with RFA calling it "backwards, silly, circular logic."
RFA president Bob Dineen said, "The authors state they want a free market for energy, but they do nothing to end the billions in subsidies to Big Oil, and they deny market access to E15. ... It would be more intellectually honest to say, 'This bill restores Big Oil's monopoly.'"