EPA completes RFS anti-backsliding study, proposes no actions

By Erin Voegele | May 29, 2020

The U.S. EPA on May 29 issued a rulemaking that proposes to determine that no additional appropriate fuel control measures are necessary to mitigate air quality impacts of required renewable fuel volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

RFS regulations contained in the Clean Air Act require the EPA to complete an anti-backsliding study to determine if required RFS blending volumes adversely impact air quality as a result of changes in vehicle and engine emissions. After considering the results of the study, the agency is required to either promulgate fuel regulations to mitigate adverse impacts on air quality, or determine that no such measures are necessary. The EPA is proposing the second option—stating that the agency has determined no such measures are necessary.

“EPA is proposing to determine that no additional fuel control measures are necessary because since 2017, EPA has been implementing the Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards which are more stringent and reduce concentrations of ozone, PM2.5, NO2, and air toxics now and in the future,” said the agency in a notice posted to its website. “In making this determination, EPA considered the analyses performed for the Tier 3 rulemaking, as well as the anti-backsliding study.”

The EPA published a notice in February 2019 proposing a consent decree that would require the agency to complete the anti-backsliding study by March 30, 2020. At that time, the EPA said the proposed consent decree would partially resolve a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 2017 that sought to compel completion of the study.

A 30-day public comment period on the proposed determination will open following the proposal’s publication in the Federal Register. Comments can be filed on www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-0240.

Growth Energy issued a statement following the proposal’s publication stating that the anti-backsliding report side-steps the wide body of evidence supporting a clear scientific consensus around the clean air benefits of ethanol. Growth Energy also stressed the proposal rehashes outdated information while omitting critical data on the environmental advantages of low-carbon biofuels.

“It’s disappointing to see this EPA miss another chance to correct outdated claims which minimize contributions of U.S. biofuels to clean air and a healthy climate,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “The Renewable Fuel Standard has stood the test of time as America’s single most successful clean energy policy, driving down greenhouse gas emissions while displacing toxic petroleum-based aromatics, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

“The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent or more compared to traditional gasoline, with corn ethanol’s relative carbon benefits reaching as high as 70 percent,” she continued. “And a vast trove of public, private, and academic studies shows how continuous innovation has allowed us to ramp up biofuel production year after year, without expanding our environmental footprint. The data is clear. Without ethanol, we would be rolling back the clock, with higher emissions of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and smog-forming pollutants linked to cancer, as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and reproductive damage.

“Clean energy leaders and health experts, including those at the American Lung Association, are all speaking out about the importance of alternative fuels like ethanol for protecting our respiratory health, now more than ever,” Skor added. “And new research from experts like Dr. Steffen Mueller at the University of Illinois Chicago shows that cleaner biofuel blends can improve health outcomes and save lives.”

Additional information is available on the EPA website