RFS comment period closes, more than 44,000 comments submitted

By Erin Voegele | September 01, 2017

The comment period on the U.S. EPA’s proposed rule to set 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard, along with the 2019 RVO for biomass-based diesel, closed at midnight Aug. 31. More than 44,000 comments were filed on the proposal. The agency will now review those comments as part of its effort to finalize the proposal. Under statute, the EPA is required to issue a final rule setting 2018 RVOs by Nov. 30.

The proposed rule calls for 19.24 billion gallons of total renewable fuel, including 238 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, 2.1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel and 4.24 billion gallons of advanced biofuel. The 2.1 billion gallon biomass-based diesel requirement for 2018 was finalized last year. For 2019, the new proposal calls for the biomass-based diesel RVO to be maintained at 2.1 billion gallons.

In its comments, the Renewable Fuels Association called on the EPA to maintain the 15 billion gallon conventional RVO and increase cellulosic requirements. “RFA is pleased that the EPA maintained the statutory implied volume requirement of 15 billion gallons for conventional renewable fuels in 2018,” wrote RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen in comments to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “In doing so, the agency has sent a positive signal to the marketplace to continue the infrastructure investments necessary to grow the renewable fuel marketplace and expand the availability of gasoline blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol.”

However, RFA is “concerned that EPA’s assessment of ‘reasonably attainable’ renewable fuel levels in 2018 continues to inappropriately rely on demand-side factors, which is clearly barred by the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. We encourage the agency to adopt the intended approach of simply evaluating the physical supply of renewable fuels (and RINs) available to obligated refiners, blenders and importers relative to the statutory volume requirements,” Dinneen noted in comments.

On cellulosic biofuel, RFA urged the agency to use projections that reflect new and emerging technologies. EPA’s proposed approach for assessing available cellulosic biofuel supplies “pessimistically assumes new and emerging cellulosic biofuel facilities and technologies—including cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel fiber—will not produce any material volume in 2018,” wrote Dinneen. “This backward-looking methodology ignores marketplace realities and turns the market-driving purpose of the RFS on its head. EPA should abandon its proposed approach for projecting likely volumes of cellulosic biofuel and return to the methodology used for the 2016 and 2017 RVO rules (and early drafts of the 2018 RVO proposed rule).”

The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas also called on EPA to increase cellulosic RVOs in the final rule. The RNG Coalition, Energy Vision, the National Waste and Recycling Association, Natural Gas Vehicles for America, and the Solid Waste Association of North America submitted joint public comments on the proposal. "Consistent with the RNG industry's unified feedback to EPA at the 2018 RVO hearing on Aug. 1 in Washington, D.C., EPA should take action to amend the proposed new methodology for projection of gaseous cellulosic biofuels in the 2018 RVO draft rule," said Johannes Escudero, RNG Coalition CEO.

"We have great appreciation for the substantial work EPA staff has undertaken to deliver the draft rule. However, the new method EPA proposes to use to count fuel availability is problematic," said David Cox, RNG Coalition Director of Operations and General Counsel. "RNG producers are on schedule to add 32 renewable natural gas facilities and 164.97 Million Gallons of fuel by the end of 2018—additional fuel that goes unaccounted for in the proposed rule."

"Each RNG project provides 173 jobs and between $10 and $50 million in development investment," added Escudero. "This rule has great economic and energy security implications for the future of American fuel. It will determine whether we cede our energy security to foreign oil, or embrace the domestic production of clean renewable natural gas available today in communities across the country."

The American Coalition for Ethanol also submitted comments on the RFS proposal to the EPA. The organization emphasized the economic benefits of the RFS and stated in its comments that “Congress directed EPA to take seriously the impact any reductions of RFS volumes would have on rural economies.  When proposing RFS volumes, EPA, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, must look at issues such as job creation, economic development, and commodity prices.  EPA is bound by law to ensure it does no harm to commodity prices or the rural economy.”

ACE also offered comment on the conventional biofuel level, use of the general waiver authority—given the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Americans for Clean Energy et al. v. EPA, the potential of a future “reset” of the RFS, and the advanced and cellulosic biofuel levels. Finally, ACE underscored the importance of clearing regulatory bottlenecks, the need to update lifecycle greenhouse gas modeling for corn ethanol, and why EPA should provide Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief for E15 and higher blends.

In its comments, Growth Energy urged the EPA to maintain a strong foundation for starch ethanol and move forward, not backward, on cellulosic ethanol. Growth Energy also called on the EPA to revise the cellulosic waiver credit program to ensure the volumes being produced are being used in the transportation fuel system, and asked the agency to take actions to mitigate manipulation in the RIN market.

“The Renewable Fuel Standard has been the nation’s most successful energy policy,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “Ethanol is a high-performance, high-octane biofuel that also reduces harmful emissions and displaces toxic chemicals in gasoline. Higher ethanol blends provide consumers with a choice, as well as savings at the pump. Further, the RFS promotes economic growth and energy security by supporting American jobs and insulating our markets against the volatile price of oil from foreign and often hostile nations.

“Administrator Pruitt and the administration put forward a good, strong proposal to maintain the commitment to starch ethanol, but there is simply no reason to backpedal on moving the RFS forward with cellulosic biofuel,” Skor continued. “With our comments, we are showing that we can continue the significant progress made by the RFS and that we can continue to grow the market for cellulosic biofuel.”

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization also submitted comments to the EPA, asking the agency to use a forward-looking methodology in setting RVOs. “BIO requests that EPA revise its proposed 2018 RFS rule to build upon the successes of the 2017 RFS and send a signal that there will be market growth for advanced and cellulosic biofuels,” said BIO in its comments. “The proposed rule in its current form puts at risk industry progress and development with a new methodology that will in effect limit the volumes for cellulosic biofuels.”

“The advanced and cellulosic biofuels industry are poised for rapid growth in 2018 if the final 2018 RFS rule includes the necessary changes from the proposed version to allow these producers access to the transportation fuel market,” BIO continued.

“When allowed to work, the RFS has enabled billions of dollars of investment in new technologies that have led to the rapid growth of the renewable fuels industry and the biobased economy. This benefits our nation’s economic and energy security,” said BIO in its comments. “The growth of the biofuels industry has bolstered our rural communities and provided agriculture producers stable commodity markets. To continue this success and bring even greater job growth to rural America, the final rule for the 2018 RFS should not arbitrarily limit growth of advanced and cellulosic biofuels industry.

“To make this possible, EPA must reject its new methodology of forecasting gallons under the cellulosic waiver and return to a forward-looking forecasting methodology that considers current market activity,” BIO continued. “EPA should also not limit advanced and overall volumes by reducing them at the same levels as the cellulosic biofuels market. EPA can help ensure that additional gallons of advanced and cellulosic biofuels will be available by expediting pathway approvals and adjusting its treatment of carryover RINs.”

The National Corn Growers Association also submitted comments asking the EPA to maintain the proposed amount of conventional ethanol, while raising the RVOs for cellulosic, advanced and total renewable fuels. “We ask EPA to maintain the proposed conventional fuel requirement in the final rule,” said Wesley Spurlock, president and of NCGA. “We also ask EPA to take a more forward-looking approach with stronger final volumes for cellulosic, advanced and total biofuels in order to draw the continued investment and innovation needed to support the ongoing expansion of cellulosic and advanced fuel production.”