RFS waiver comment period draws to a close

By Erin Voegele | October 11, 2012

The opportunity to submit comments to the U.S. EPA with regard to the renewable fuel standard (RFS) waiver requests is nearly over. The public comment period closes tonight at 11:59 p.m. EDT.  More than 2,000 comments have already been submitted.

A wide variety of individuals, businesses and groups have already weighed in on the issue, including several trade organizations that represent the U.S. biofuels industry. The Biofuels Producers Coordinating Council submitted a comment in late August. The council is comprised of the Advanced Biofuels Association, the Advanced Ethanol Council, the Algae Biomass Organization, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, the National Biodiesel Board and the Renewable Fuels Association.

In their comment, the BPCC members stressed that waiving the RFS would have minimal impact on grain prices and that weakening U.S. commitment to renewable fuels would actually increase gas prices. The group added that altering the RFS would negatively impact investments in advanced biofuels and would destabilize a cornerstone of the U.S. economic recovery.

In a separate comment, the ABFA said it believes that the waiver request do not address the relevant issues or provide adequate evidence to support of the claims they present, and therefore should be denied. These requests do not specifically address advanced biofuels, nor can they,” noted Michael McAdams, ABFA president, in the comment. “The [ABFA] strongly supports EPA's logic in previous requests for waivers of the RFS program, and believes that many of the same factors which led to the denial in early cases are applicable in the current request. We do not believe that any of the minimal thresholds have been met to waive the program.”

The RFA agreed that the waiver requests fail to satisfy the statutory criteria needed to approve a waiver request. In the comment, Bob Dinneen, RFA president and CEO, said any state-level changes in the cost of corn that might result from a waiver request would be trivial. He also stressed that the waiver requests do not show that the RFS itself is causing the claimed harm, rather the requests point to the drought. In addition, Dinneen pointed out that there is no clear evidence that waiving the RFS would actually drop feed prices, as minimal decreases in the price of corn could be more than offset by increases in other feed products, such as distillers grains. The RFA also stated that the waivers failed to recognize the RFS compliance flexibilities and fail to consider the economic benefits of the RFS.

In its comment, ACE stressed that the fact that harm must be found in more than one sector of the economy is a key element of the precedent established by EPA in 2008. A cursory assessment of economic conditions in any of the states seeking a waiver reveals that widespread harm in more than one sector of the economy as a result of the RFS cannot be found. In fact, such a review uncovers very positive economic news in many of the states,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE, in his comment.

BIO noted that while the waiver request would have little to no impact on corn prices, it would certainly cause harm to the biofuel industry. “While waiving RFS requirements in the relevant time period would have little to no impact on the economy of a state, a region or the United States, it would cause severe harm to biofuel producers and biotechnology companies across the United States, including those in the states submitting petitions. The petitions, as presented for comment, fail to demonstrate that continued implementation of the RFS would severely harm the economy or the environment of a State, a region, or the United States as a whole during the waiver period,” said BIO in its comment.

Growth Energy has also weighed in on the issue. “There is simply no justification for waiving the RFS,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “These waiver requests are riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation and there is no merit to our critics’ argument.”

 According to Growth Energy, the bottom line is that governors and food companies pushing the waiver have failed to show severe economic harm directly attributable to the RFS. Rather, the increases in commodity costs are a direct result of one of the worst droughts in recent history.