McCarthy addresses RFS, biogenic emissions during hearing

By Erin Voegele | April 07, 2014

The U.S. EPA’s policies with regard to bioenergy were among the topics discussed during a recent EPA budget hearing held by the House Committee on Appropriations. During the event, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy addressed questions on the proposed rule for the 2014 renewable fuel standard (RFS) and the agency’s revised accounting framework for biogenic carbon emissions.

Responding to a question focused on comments she made earlier this year at an agricultural conference about EPA’s intention to revise it’s 2014 RFS proposal in its final rulemaking, McCarthy specified that she had acknowledged that the ethanol and biodiesel industries clearly do not believe the proposed RFS represented the full breadth of what the agency could or should be doing to achieve the congressionally mandated levels in the law. “I told them that I would be taking a look at comments and they would see that we properly considered those,” she said, stressing that the EPA will consider all comments submitted on the proposal, including those in support of the proposed rule and those against it. “In terms of the final rule, we are going to do our best to meet the requirements under the law,” she said, noting that the agency is also recognizes that ethanol levels called for in statute are not seen to be able to be absorbed by the market at this time. “We are going to take a responsible approach that recognizes the infrastructure challenges and the inability at this point to achieve the levels of ethanol that are in the law.”

Later on in the hearing, McCarthy addressed the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels. “I think that congressman we all agree—and the statute is pretty clear—that we are really trying to get to advanced and cellulosic [biofuels],” she said.

Regarding the treatment of biogenic carbon emissions from biomass sources, McCarthy stressed the EPA is anxious to finalize that proposal because the agency understands there is currently a lot of confusion. In July 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the EPA had provided insufficient legal justification to defer greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation of biogenic emissions and vacated the agency’s Deferral Rule

During the hearing, McCarthy said the EPA has been meeting with several organizations and companies on the issue, and those companies have provide the agency with great information. She also noted that a scientific advisory board is working on the issue to try to identify how to provide incentives for the continued use of biomass in sustainable ways. “On the whole, if you look at it, its very good from a greenhouse gas perspective,” she said. “The challenge is to put that into a framework that allows us to continue with the type of exemption…that the courts have now overturned, but to understand how we can look at biomass in a context of not just of greenhouse gas permitting, but on the whole to encourage the kind of sustainability that we are seeing out there.” McCarthy said she is hopeful that framework could be complete sometime this year.