The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Growing Consensus On ‘Unworkable’ RFS

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 11, 2015

To the chorus of voices sounding the alarm on the broken Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – AAA, automakers, outdoor power equipment manufacturers, marine manufacturers, turkey and chicken producers, restaurant companies, grocery manufacturers, environmental non-profits and anti-hunger groups – add another: the advanced biofuels industry.

Given the fact the RFS was designed to encourage development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, the Advanced Biofuels Association’s call for significant RFS reform is a game-changer in the ongoing public policy debate. ABFA President Michael McAdams at this week’s Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference:

“… the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) – the very tool that was created to foster our industry – has become one of the greatest obstacles to continued development of the advanced and cellulosic biofuel industry due to inconsistent and poor implementation.”

The issue is the way the RFS, through annual ethanol mandates, has resulted in ever-increasing production of ethanol made from corn – versus ethanol and other biofuels made from non-food feedstocks. McAdams said the corn ethanol industry produced 14.3 billion gallons in 2014 and biomass-based diesel produced about 1.7 billion gallons, compared to the non-diesel advanced cellulosic sector’s 2014 production of less than 180 million gallons. McAdams:

“Eight years after its passage, it is easy to see that the RFS may be working for some, but it is only minimally helpful to advance the promise and potential of next-generation renewable fuels.  We need to acknowledge the simple fact: that the RFS is not equally helpful to all sectors of the biofuels industry.”

Hence the concerns from various industries and advocacy groups associated with food production, food sales and anti-hunger efforts. Bob Greco, API downstream group director:

The ABFA announcement “just further narrows the coalition of people who support the RFS. It’s basically the corn growers and the corn ethanol manufacturers at this point. And while … supporters of reform are growing, you’re shrinking support for the status quo. It’s recognition of how badly broken the RFS currently is.”

Greco and representatives of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and ActionAid held a conference call with reporters to talk about problems with the RFS.

“A chorus of concerned groups -- from consumer groups to environmental groups to anti-hunger groups to industry groups – are calling for repeal or reform of the nation’s ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

Greco said though the RFS was well-intended when it was enacted in 2007, the United States’ energy situation has dramatically changed since then with surging domestic production of oil and natural gas and declining demand for gasoline. The RFS is requiring industry to squeeze more ethanol into a smaller amount of gasoline, bringing the country close to the ethanol “blend wall,” where the RFS would force more than 10 percent ethanol into each gallon of gas. Greco:

“This is concerning because most cars on the road today cannot tolerate these higher ethanol blends. Testing by the oil and auto industries shows these blends could significantly damage millions of cars on the road. Engines and fuel systems just were not designed for fuel with higher than 10 percent ethanol. And, automakers have said they will not honor warranties when consumers use these higher blends.”

He called the RFS “unworkable” and said the program is “stuck in the past.”

EWG’s Scott Faber focused on the environmental impacts of corn ethanol production under the RFS, which was supposed to help the country meet environmental goals:

“Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is exactly what has happened. Implementation of the RFS has significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions when compared to emissions from gasoline, it has increased water pollution, increased the emission of criteria air pollutants and it has destroyed valuable habitat for wildlife.”

ActionAid’s Kelly Stone said the RFS is responsible for half of the world’s growth demand for biofuels, which has “serious implications for hunger and land rights around the world.” These are especially acute in the globe’s poorer countries:

“Congress had good intentions when it created the Renewable Fuel Standard, but the unintended costs are too high and it’s time for reform. We shouldn’t be fueling hunger when we’re fueling our cars.”

The RFS is broken, and its brokenness is having wide impact, which is the crucible for such a broad coalition of interests who can’t abide the status quo.


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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.