Industry: EPA is pulling the plug on new biofuels

ethanol refineryThe advanced biofuel lobby is raising concerns that the Environmental Protection Agency, the supposed defender of clean-burning fuels, could be setting up the industry for a devastating fall if new regulations are enacted.

The defenders of the second-generation fuels, derived from agriculture waste and other feedstock, say EPA’s recently proposed Renewable Fuel Standard only appears to boost demand for biofuels, while in reality it gives the agency the power to reduce production forever.

Brent Erickson, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a prime defender of the emerging advanced biofuel industry, framed the new proposal as a “cynical” attempt to appease the refinery and oil industries. The proposed rules would trigger the EPA under the Clean Air Act to rewrite the standards at much lower levels beginning next year.

“EPA’s proposed rule cynically adjusts the regulatory system to benefit the industry it is intended to regulate and to throw up a roadblock (call it a blend wall if you like) for advanced biofuels,” Erickson wrote in a recent op-ed published in Biofuels Digest.

Paul Winters, a spokesman for the group, says the concern extends to several fuel requirements under the standard, including the cellulosic biofuel mandate in addition to the advanced fuels.

“One of our biggest concerns is that EPA appears to be very arbitrarily proposing advanced and overall volumes that will trigger the rewrite of not just the cellulosic but the advanced and overall volumes as well for 2017 and after,” Winters said in an email.

Ironically, advanced biofuels carry the most weight for combating climate change under the president’s global warming agenda. Advanced and cellulosic biofuels reduce the most carbon dioxide compared to petroleum fuels.

Many scientists say manmade global warming is a result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. Biofuels are meant to displace petroleum use to lower emissions and enhance energy security.

The Renewable Fuel Standard is issued annually by EPA, establishing mandatory requirements for the oil industry and refiners to blend corn-based ethanol and other, more advanced biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel supplies.

The program has suffered from substantial delays in recent years, forcing the agency to issue three years’ worth of requirements in May, establishing rules for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The unprecedented three-year proposal also sets the requirements for refiners to blend the lowest-emitting fuels under the program, designated as “advanced” and “cellulosic” biofuels.

But even though the industry’s production levels are historically high, they are still not as high Congress intended them to be. And therein lies the problem, according to Erickson and BIO.

If EPA sets the biofuel levels consecutively at much lower levels, which it has done in May’s proposed rule, it triggers a new authority under the Clean Air Act whereby it can rewrite the requirements at permanently lower levels.

“The agency disingenuously claims that its proposal is ‘forward-leaning’ and that the volumes are ‘higher than what the market would produce and use in the absence of such market-driving standards,'” Erickson said. “But the fact is, EPA proposed volumes for 2015 and 2016 that are transparently calculated to give the agency authority to rewrite the statutory volumes for the future.”

Erickson said all Renewable Fuel Standard stakeholders have been aware of EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act “that allows EPA to rewrite the statutory volumes after 2016, if it is required to waive volumes by more than 20 percent in two consecutive prior years.”

“The overall volumes that EPA has proposed for 2015 and 2016 are slightly higher than that 20 percent waiver mark,” he said. That is no coincidence, as the oil industry has been encouraging the big waivers, he said.

At a June 25 public hearing on the proposal in Kansas City, oil industry officials urged the agency to “maintain those 20 percent cuts to the overall volumes and rewrite the statutory volumes for 2017 and beyond,” he said.

“While EPA’s current logic escapes me,” he said, “they still have time to correct the RFS” in the final rule. The comment period on the three-year proposal ends July 27.

The standard has been a thorn in the agency’s side for years, suffering from delays, lawsuits and angst from both the oil industry that it regulates and the renewable fuel producers and farmers it is supposed to support.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation to repeal or reform the program, while many would like to see EPA resolve the program’s problems. Still, others note that the program is a prime example of a federal subsidy program gone awry, and that the market should decide which fuels become commercial.

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  • Avatar

    Gator

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    Just defund the EPA already, it is doing more harm than good at this point. And bio-fuels are a loser as it takes more fuel to produce them than they produce, as well as taking food from the mouths of the straving millions.

    [i]The IPCC was quite diplomatic in its discussion, saying “Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30–90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions—including from land use change—can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis” [/i](IPCC 2014 Chapter 8).

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    • Avatar

      4TimesAYear

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      They don’t count emissions from biofuels, period.
      [quote]The accounting now used for assessing compliance with carbon limits in the Kyoto Protocol and in climate legislation contains a far-reaching but fixable flaw that will severely undermine greenhouse gas reduction goals (1). It does not count CO2 emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is being used, but it also does not count changes in emissions from land use when biomass for energy is harvested or grown. This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral, regardless of the source of the biomass, which may cause large differences in net emissions. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon. One study (2) estimated that a global CO2 target of 450 ppm under this accounting would cause bioenergy crops to expand to displace virtually all the world’s natural forests and savannahs by 2065, releasing up to 37 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 per year (comparable to total human CO2 emissions today). Another study predicts that, based solely on economic considerations, bioenergy could displace 59% of the world’s natural forest cover and release an additional 9 Gt of CO2 per year to achieve a 50% “cut” in greenhouse gases by 2050 (3). The reason: When bioenergy from any biomass is counted as carbon neutral, economics favor large-scale land conversion for bioenergy regardless of the actual net emissions (4). The potential of bioenergy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions inherently depends on the source of the biomass and its net land-use effects. Replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy does not by itself reduce carbon emissions because the CO2 released by tailpipes and smokestacks is roughly the same per unit of energy regardless of the source (1, 5). Emissions from producing/refining biofuels also typically exceed those for petroleum (1, 6).[/quote]
      “Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error”
      Timothy D. Searchinger, Steven P. Hamburg, Jerry Melillo, William Chameides, Petr Havlik, Daniel M. Kammen, Gene E. Likens, Ruben N. Lubowski, Michael Obersteiner, Michael Oppenheimer, G. Philip Robertson, William H. Schlesinger, G. David Tilman
      [url]https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCEQFjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Finlportal.inl.gov%2Fportal%2Fserver.pt%2Fdocument%2F71117%2Ftab_8%2C_fixing_a_critical_climate_accounting_error_pdf&ei=j0W7U5ioHcf-oQScxIHoDg&usg=AFQjCNHe0-m9xX_bRhN1nJzydJ-WEpncUg&sig2=I3SekP2QELCRGw28Z_Iauw[/url]

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    Amber

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    So the EPA has suddenly discovered the truth about biofuels. By not doing the up front homework the EPA has achieved the twin results of increasing pollution and starving people of food resources .

    Who do these people work for ? Punt .

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    Amber

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    Reduce the supply of a mandated substance(biofuel ) while increasing the requirement and the EPA can play games with the price of gasoline . The carbon tax concept by stealth, plain and simple .

    Carbon tax will never work in a deregulated energy market because the carbon tax turns to noise as the volatility swamps the tax unless it is so high as to get politicians fired .

    The EPA back door approach slides it in to raise prices and limiting the supply of biofuel will jack up the price of gasoline as they turn the screws . Oil companies can say it is not us and politicians can wash their hands of it .
    Fairly clever really unless you were hoping to keep you kids alive with some of that food . But the twin objectives of “humanly ” reducing population and saving the planet are right in extreme
    greenies wheel house .Another public service of the EPA .

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