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RFS hearing features mostly biofuel supporters

Witnesses testify about the importance of EPA holding to congressional intent of the final rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., on its proposed volume levels for the renewable fuel standard (RFS). An overwhelming number of the nearly 140 who testified were biofuel supporters, and many called on EPA to abide by the levels set out by Congress.

Last month, EPA proposed capping the corn-based ethanol portion of the rule at 14.8 billion gal., below levels prescribed by Congress under the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. Total renewable volume obligations (RVOs) for the 2017 RFS were proposed at 18.8 billion gal.

In a rally on the day of the hearing, Bob Dinneen, chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Assn., criticized EPA’s justification of scaling back the RFS numbers because of the “achievable given realities of the marketplace” when “today’s reality clearly demonstrates that 15 billion gal. of conventional ethanol can be met.”

Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Assn. (NCGA), said EPA is sending the wrong signals to farmers, investors and competitors. In keeping with the promise of the RFS, Bowling said corn growers have stepped up to the plate and have expanded crop yields, with record crops last year and another record expected this year. He said the 200 million gal. reduction in the RVO from what Congress intended leaves a “state-sized hole” in the renewable marketplace as a state such as Missouri produces 300 million gal. of biofuels yearly.

At the public hearing, Iowa farmer Randy Caviness told EPA, on behalf of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation, that the decision not to follow the intent of Congress is highly disappointing.

“Our nation’s farmers can grow more bushels of corn and soybeans on fewer acres to feed and fuel the world, but if these reduced volumes are finalized, this decision will stall growth and progress in renewable fuels as well as the broader agricultural economy,” Caviness said.

The American Soybean Assn. (ASA) called on EPA to increase the proposed volumes for biomass-based diesel to at least a minimum of 2.5 billion gal. for 2018 in the proposed rule. EPA proposed a target of 2.1 billion gal.

An ASA representative testified that the biomass-based diesel volume requirements to 2.5 billion gal. in 2018 is “achievable and warranted.” He explained, “There is idle domestic production capacity and ample, price competitive feedstock available to supply increased domestic biodiesel production. In addition, we are experiencing increasing levels of imported biodiesel. In 2015, there were approximately 670 million gal. of biomass-based diesel imports, and that number is expected to grow.”

Members from ethanol companies also testified. POET, the largest ethanol producer, had four representatives slated to testify. POET is one of the few plants currently producing cellulosic ethanol at its Emmetsburg, Iowa, location. Greg Olsen, general manager of the plant in Corning, Iowa, noted that a few years ago, there was excitement that many of the POET plants would also have a new cellulosic project at their location.

“Unfortunately, corporate continues to indicate that they are uncertain if EPA is committed to increasing volumes of ethanol to statutory levels. I continue to hear from my executive terms like ‘regulatory uncertainty’ and ‘lack of market access’ and ‘unclear path to commercialization.’ In one conversation, I was told that if (EPA is) willing to cut the total renewable volumes by 200,000 gal., they may be willing to pull the rug out from underneath us on a more expensive and risky cellulosic project,” Olsen testified.

The American Petroleum Institute again called for a repeal or significant reform of the RFS, saying EPA must continue to address the outdate volume requirement by exercising its waiver authorities.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until July 11. EPA intends to publish a final rule setting the 2017 levels by the end of November. Last year, EPA did raise its final levels from its initial proposal.  

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