The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Still Waiting for Cellulosic Biofuels – EPA Continues to Deny Reality

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 25, 2012

To pretty much no one’s surprise, EPA announced Friday that it is denying a petition that it reconsider its 2011 advanced cellulosic mandate. The petition was filed by API and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (now American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers).

The reason it’s not surprising is that the decision came more than a year after the petition was filed and five months after the end of 2011. Refiners really had no recourse even if EPA had granted the petition.

The rejection is symptomatic of a larger problem: EPA’s continued improper use of its waiver authority.  We now know that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2010, 2011 or in the first three months of 2012 (see API’s chart, based on EPA data, below). Yet EPA continues to assert that aggressive mandates that aren’t based on actual production will somehow stimulate production of these fuels.  It’s hard to argue that approach has worked so far.

It’s also worth noting that because EPA took so long reviewing this petition, we now know that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2011 – no need to make any educated guesses.  So EPA, despite knowing that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2011, decided in mid-2012 to uphold a mandate that is not zero.  Thus, refiners are required to buy compliance credits for a fuel that doesn’t exist, and that EPA knows doesn’t exist.

At some point technological advances will lead to the commercial production of such fuels.  In fact, the refining industry is investing billions attempting  to develop such fuels from feedstocks like algae and switch grass.  But as the National Research Council concluded last fall, “Currently no commercially viable biorefineries exist for converting cellulosic biomass to fuel.”

These fuels aren’t here now, and EPA’s poor policy decisions just underscore the problems with the current unworkable mandate. Maybe they hope no one will notice when such decisions are announced the Friday before a holiday weekend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.