EPA announces plan to improve RFS pathway petition process

By Erin Voegele | March 18, 2014

The U.S. EPA has published a notice to its website announcing that it is taking action to improve the petition process for new renewable fuel pathways under the renewable fuel standard (RFS) program. According to the agency, the process is expected to take approximately six months. During that time, the EPA has recommended that parties that are considering filing new pathway petitions delay their submissions until the new guidance is provided. However, the notice specifies that EPA does intend to continue reviewing pending petitions that are considered high priority and those for which substantial modeling has already been done during the interim.  

According to information released by the EPA, it has decided to improve the petition process because it has determined a need to enable more timely and efficient decision making. The agency has outlined three specific elements the improvement process will include.

First, a Lean government exercise will be undertaken to improve the quality, transparency and efficiency of the EPA’s internal review process. An EPA webpage dedicated to Lean government explains the process enables environmental agencies to work more efficiently by eliminating waste in government processes. EPA offices have employed these Lean methods to shorten process timeframes by up to 82 percent and reduce the number of process steps by more than 63 percent. According to information presented by the EPA, state environmental agencies that use Lean have been able to reduce administrative review times by more than 50 percent.

Second, the EPA will develop improved guidance for petitioners. The notice specifies this will include step-by-step instructions and application templates for different types of petitions. According to the EPA, one goal of this effort will be to help applicants provide all of the data the EPA requires to complete its assessments while reducing extraneous information.

Third, the EPA will launch a more automated review process for petitions using previously approved feedstocks and well-known production process technologies.

Regarding its intention to continue reviewing high priority pending petitions and those for which substantial modeling has already been completed, the EPA noted that it will have to set priorities due to resource limitations. The agency said pending petitions will be prioritized based on the ability to contribute to the cellulosic mandate, the potential for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a per gallon basis, and the ability to contribute to near-term increases in renewable fuel use. In addition, further prioritization will be made based on the expected date of commercialization and the date of petition submission.

Within the notice, the EPA also noted that it intends to contact parties who have already submitted petitions to discuss their status. In addition, the EPA stressed that parties that do elect to submit new petitions before the improvement process is complete could be asked to resubmit their petitions using the new guidance, once it is available.

The EPA has also invited stakeholders to submit ideas on how to improve the process by emailing their ideas to [email protected]. The phrase “Petition Process Input” should be used as the subject line.

The EPA currently lists approximately three dozen pending pathway assessments on its website, including 18 for ethanol. There are also pending pathways for biodiesel, renewable diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, naphtha, LPG, renewable electricity, CNG, isobutanol, cellulosic biofuel, dimethyl ether, un-transesterified plant oil, and cellulosic diesel. 

A full copy of the notice can be downloaded from the EPA website.