Stand up for the RFS

By Erin Voegele | August 16, 2012

The renewable fuel standard (RFS) is under attack yet again. While the program has often been challenged on the basis of cellulosic volume requirements, this time the push is coming from livestock and poultry producers that think cutting corn ethanol production will lower corn prices, which have been skyrocketing due to drought conditions.

Several governors have filed RFS waiver requests with the U.S. EPA, including North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Mally, and Delaware Gov. Jack A. Markell.

Although economic analysis after economic analysis has shown that reducing the RFS volume requirement for corn ethanol would only result in negligible impacts on corn prices, these groups are continuing their push.

Given the actual numbers, it seems unlikely that any of the waiver requests will be accepted, as high commodity prices alone should not meet the threshold needed for EPA to find a waiver is warranted. Then again, in the world of politics—especially in an election year—anything can happen. Even if the EPA denies the requests, it is always possible that members of the House and Senate could draft a bill that would chip away at the RFS and its goals.

While the whole matter—for now—is focused on corn ethanol, advanced and cellulosic biofuel companies need to take note. While the RFS program may not be perfect, it is doing a lot to help open and expand markets for all kinds of biofuels—from traditional ethanol and biodiesel, to drop-in cellulosic gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Allowing the program to be altered could be a bit of a slippery slope. Minor changes could lead to major changes, leaving the program unable to support the emerging advanced biofuel space as it grows into a mature industry.

The EPA must issue its response to the waiver petitions within 90 days, which makes the deadline sometime in mid-October, depending upon when the clock was officially started. However, before a decision is made, the agency must accept public comments on the issue. I checked the Federal Register today. As of this afternoon, there was no notice for the comment period. We will make a point to alert our readers when that comment period is opened. At that time, I encourage those who support any aspect of the RFS to make their voices heard.