Keeping Our Eye on the Ball

RFS2 detractors must be ignored, even though the program is not perfect
By Michael McAdams | January 30, 2012

As Washington reawakens, let me begin by suggesting that a little common sense would go a long way right about now. It has been four years since Congress passed the revised RFS2 legislation creating a 36 billion gallon mandate for conventional and advanced biofuels. For all you partisans out there, don’t forget this was negotiated and signed by President George W. Bush, not Barrack Obama. So politically lumping in the RFS2 with the Obama renewable energy policy as reason enough to walk away from a promising and growing industry does not hold water.

Let’s first ask ourselves, what was the purpose and reason the Congress passed the RFS2 in the first place? Well, as I remember, it was to “break the addiction to foreign oil.” Is that not still an issue today? For many on the Democratic side of the aisle, in 2007, the issue was also to reduce the carbon footprint of our transportation fuels. That is why the RFS2 is the only federal statute that mandates some kind of greenhouse gas reduction component (i.e. the 20 percent, 50 percent and 60 percent requirements for the fuels’ respective categories). For whatever the reason, in the end the House of Representatives voted a whopping 314 to 100 and the Senate 86 to 8 in favor of passing the Energy Independence and Security Act that created the RFS2. 

We have not seen a bipartisan vote like that on a major piece of legislation in a very long time. But today, I find myself answering numerous questions from reporters about the EPA’s recent announcement of the mandated gallons for 2012. Oddly enough, I always have to remind them that it took 20 years to deliver the first 2 billion gallons of ethanol after having support dating back to 1978. So far, we are not doing a bad job in terms of meeting the advanced and biomass-based diesel pool numbers. But the shortsightedness of our 24/7 news cycle has most media pronouncing the RFS a failure solely because the cellulosic numbers were not met.

This is simply not the case. We are moving technologies along at an encouraging pace in all the various categories of technology platforms, some are just closer to producing barrels than others. It would be nice if Congress could mandate desired scientific accomplishment and market development deployment, but it simply does not work that way. We must stay the course and the RFS2 is the most important, powerful mechanism to achieve the goals that Congress intended four years ago. 

Those who are erroneously calling the RFS2 a failure and calling for a repeal of the statute must be ignored. This misleading rhetoric demands that our industry work together to make our case as to why the RFS should remain a fundamental piece of U.S. energy policy.

Don’t get me wrong, the statute is not perfect. Sure, it could use changes to ensure certainty of feedstocks, process technologies and molecules, and it would be nice if the process of certifying fuels were a little more streamlined and expeditious. We should have a presumption that fuels that replace foreign oil and foreign products be covered under RFS2 for RINs. Instead, we now have a program that requires those who are attempting to meet the overarching goals prove a never-ending list of convoluted requirements. We have gotten so smart and complicated that we are now standing in the way of commonsense decisions.

Whether it is a woody biomass that complies as a nonregenerative wood, slash or thinning, or whether it is a “waste,” these determinations should not be such complicated decisions as to stand in the way of developing a wide range of technology platforms including cellulosic gallons. Yes, I know, the statute limits the ability of the agency to make commonsense decisions. Well, maybe so, but the entire country and the policymakers who had a vision for producing biofuels, as a component piece of America’s energy strategy, did not intend the process to create the confusion and uncertainty that it ultimately created.

It is hard to argue against our success and milestones met since the bill was passed. But we can, and must, do more. It will clearly take the support of Capitol Hill and the White House, together, to agree that biofuels are essential to America’s long-term energy policy for us to deliver on the promise of the original intent of RFS2. Let’s get it right, not focus on the shortcomings, and by all means let’s make it easier to call a duck a duck, and a renewable fuel a renewable fuel.

Author: Michael McAdams
President, Advanced Biofuels Association
(202) 469-5140