EPA delays RFS2 rule

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted July 16, 2008 at 9:38 a.m. CST

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a subcommittee hearing July 10 to discuss the renewable fuels standard (RFS) enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and how the U.S. EPA plans to implement the second stage of the RFS enacted in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 (RFS2).

Committee members heard testimony from Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. Meyers told attending senators that because the RFS2 includes new elements which add complexity to the program, the agency will not be able to issue a final ruling on the matter until mid-2009. The EPA's final ruling is supposed to be issued on Jan. 1, 2009.

"While EPA will draw from its experience in developing the original RFS
regulations, it is important to understand that [the Energy Independence and Security Act] made a significant number of changes to the RFS program," Meyers said.

Meyers referenced five specific changes in the RFS2:

  • The increased volume mandate to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022.

  • The inclusion of non-road gasoline and diesel fuel volumes.

  • The establishment of three new renewable fuels categories: advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel and cellulosic biofuels.

  • Lifecycle greenhouse gases (GHGs) performance threshold standards must be applied to each renewable fuel category.

  • The definition of renewable fuel feedstocks has changed, limiting crops and crop residues used to produce renewable fuel to those from lands not cleared or cultivated at any time prior to the enactment of the Energy Independence and Security Act, actively managed or fallow and non-forested.

Meyers said the EPA is also assessing the many impacts of the RFS. He was hesitant to give a specific date as to when the agency might make a final decision on RFS2 because of the upcoming presidential election and change in administrations, but offered the middle of 2009 as an estimate.

U.S. DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, Steven Chalk, also testified before the committee, defending the RFS and the future of U.S. biofuels policy. "The department believes that the RFS is critical in scaling up the production and use of biofuels in the U.S. and deploying next generation biofuels," Chalk said, adding that any relaxing of the RFS would "undercut investments in new capacity as well as in research, development, and demonstration of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels."

When questioned as to the advancements being made at the DOE, Chalk stated that the focus has been on cellulosic ethanol, "but we are trying to mitigate our risks by looking at other feedstocks, such as algae for producing biodiesel."

As it was the first Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety hearing regarding the RFS, attending senators grasped the opportunity to express their own views on the issue of biofuels.

Majority leader Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in her opening statement that the United States needs stronger incentives towards cellulosic and other advanced biofuels. "I believe that we must do everything possible to move towards these advanced biofuels," she said. "I also believe that we must understand the implications for the economy, including food prices, of current policies that promote the increased use of corn-based ethanol." Boxer said the country needs to lessen its reliance on corn ethanol as well as review the ethanol tariff and other domestic ethanol incentives.

Minority leader Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed his disappointment that the committee chose to focus on next-generation biofuels rather than the food versus fuel debate. "It's this committee's delegated responsibility to exercise oversight, to reassess, and to legislate on the renewable fuels standard," he said. "I sincerely hope that process will finally start today."

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho also spoke during the hearing. "Almost every week we have a new study blaming somebody for something," he said. "If it hadn't been for increased commodity prices…our farmers would be in bankruptcy today and we'd be bailing them out."