EPA Proposes Renewable Energy Goals

Response to energy announcement has been favorable.

Published on: May 6, 2009

In addition to the formation of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group Tuesday, the Environmental Agency announced a proposal that would require: 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels; 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels; 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels; and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel be utilized by the year 2022. The proposal would also, for the first time, require some renewable fuels to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace. Also, refiners must meet the requirements to receive credit toward meeting the new standards.

The thresholds for the new categories would be 20% less greenhouse gas emissions for renewable fuels produced from new facilities, 50% less for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels, and 60% less for cellulosic biofuels. EPA also will conduct peer-reviews on the lifecycle analysis of the four renewable fuel categories. Lifecycle refers to the greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the fuels.

The law also required EPA to also look at indirect effects and according to Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen, they have done their best to try to do that.

"That is where there is so much uncertainty and so much dialogue, and discussion and debate," Dinneen said. "Trying to evaluate indirect effects, and particularly international indirect effects, is highly dependent on the assumptions that are used and the data that is available. There is a great deal of uncertainty about this, which is why the Administration, I believe, wisely chose to subject those international indirect effects to a peer review."

Dinneen says RFA applauds the EPA and the Administration for recognizing that there is such uncertainty over that element of this debate and indicating that they're going to have some consensus developed before finalizing this rule.

A 60-day comment period on this proposal will begin upon publication in the Federal Register and Dinneen says RFA will work with EPA throughout the period and hopefully help finalize the rule within the year. During the comment period EPA will hold a public workshop on lifecycle analysis to assure full understanding of the analysis conducted, the issues addressed and the options that are discussed.

"The announcements send a positive message to the biofuels industry and show that the Obama administration is serious about addressing our dependence on foreign oil," said Senate Ag Committee Chair Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "In forming the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, President Obama is bringing key leaders together to create a new level of focus on aggressive actions that make full use of, and expand on, the biofuels policies we enacted in the farm bill."

As to the lifecycle greenhouse gas provision of the proposed Renewable Fuels Standard rule, Harkin says he is skeptical about the science around it and has previously urged the EPA to make sure that the science is sound before enacting such a provision.

These reactions and concerns were similar to most other individuals, groups and organizations.

"With the establishment of this working group by the President, America has taken an important step toward sustainability, energy security and economic vitality," said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. "By charging three cabinet secretaries with the development of the nation's biofuels industry and infrastructure, the President has spoken loud and clear about the important role biofuels play in our present and future."

Buis also praised U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson for soliciting peer-reviewed science on the life-cycle analysis of biofuels for purposes of the RFS II rulemaking. He said further study of the controversial theory of indirect land use change before finalizing the greenhouse gas emissions scores for biofuels is important.

Those sentiments were echoed by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"We support a comprehensive energy policy that creates a more diverse energy supply, including renewable sources such as ethanol, biodiesel, biomass and wind," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "However AFBF believes the most accurate science and reasonable interpretation of that science should be used to measure indirect land use. The way indirect land use is measured in this proposed rule is controversial and new, which highlights the need for sound science, reasonableness and common sense when making policy decisions."

In other reaction to the President's announcement, the National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union and National Biodiesel Board commended President Obama for his commitment to the biofuels industry by the creation of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group. But they too insist that the issue of indirect land use changes needs to be scrutinized.