The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) management—er, mismanagement—of the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) is indicative of growing frustration over both the agency and the RFS itself.
At the June 18 hearing, Senators grilled EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator, Janet McCabe. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), who chaired the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, opened the hearing by calling the RFS “unworkable in its current form.” In her comments, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) claimed that the EPA’s management of the RFS ignored “congressional intent,” while creating “uncertainty” and costing “investment.”
In addressing concerns from a different energy era, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which established the first renewable-fuel volume mandate. Two years later, through the Energy Independence and Security Act, the RFS program was expanded.
The EPA administers the RFS and is required to finalize proposed fuel volumes by November 30 of each year—something it has failed to do every year since 2009.
One day before the hearing on “Re-examining EPA’s Management of the RFS Program,” the American Petroleum Institute held a press call in which an unlikely coalition of RFS opponents—the American Motorcyclist Association, the Environmental Working Group, and the National Council of Chain Restaurants—sounded optimistic that 2015 is the year for RFS reform.
While the EPA’s renewable-fuel volumes, released May 29, don’t meet the law’s target of 22.25 billion gallons for 2016, they do increase year after year—with the 2016 target being an increase over current use. Addressing the EPA’s new numbers, USNews reports: “The update calls for a 27 percent increase in what the EPA calls ‘advanced biofuels’ from 2014 through 2016, a catch-all category that includes cellulosic ethanol made from corn stalks, husks and other leftovers from a harvest, plus fuel converted from sugar cane, soybean oil, and waste oils and greases, such as from fast-food restaurants. Combined with conventional corn ethanol, the proposed volumes overall rise 9 percent.”
In pressing McCabe on the RFS and the consistently missed deadlines, Lankford asked: “How does RFS get back on schedule? Or, has Congress put a requirement on EPA that it can’t fulfill?” McCabe promised they were working on it and offered some vague explanations. Lankford then asked: “I assume you would agree there’s no chance we will hit the target for 2017 based on the statute required for 2017, so we’ll have to reset it…unless there is a tremendous amount of cellulosic ethanol that comes on board.” Lankford continued, discussing the way the law was written to decrease corn ethanol use and increase cellulosic fuel, which he pointed out isn’t “possible based on production.” McCabe agreed that the cellulosic number would need to be decreased by at least 50 percent.
Later in the hearing, Lankford called cellulosic fuels “great in theory,” but acknowledged that “No one has been able to make it in a quantity that is affordable yet.” He alluded to the fact that the cellulosic industry has struggled—with the largest manufacturer of cellulosic product going bankrupt. He said: “No one can seem to crack the code to be able to make this in a way that’s actually affordable.”
Clearly, the RFS is a program that can’t be fulfilled. No wonder it has so many who see the EPA’s failures as proof that 2015 is the year for RFS reform. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, says: “The mandate is in need of significant reform and oversight.”
Maybe 2015 will be the year.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth