Launching a bipartisan review of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday released its first in a series of white papers that will examine a number of issues emerging with the current system and solicit input from interested stakeholders.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and other members of the committee are leading the effort to review the law and its implementation.
"It has been more than five years since the RFS was last revised, and we now have a wealth of actual implementation experience with it," the white paper explains. "In some respects, the RFS has unfolded as expected, but in others it has not.
Several implementation challenges have emerged that received little if any consideration prior to passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Furthermore, the overall energy landscape has changed since 2007. It is time to undertake an assessment of the RFS."
The white paper addresses the "blend wall," the point at which adding the required volume of ethanol to gasoline supplies would result in ethanol blends that exceed 10% -- the current maximum ethanol content approved for sale for use in all vehicles.
With gasoline demand has declining in recent years, and ethanol targets rising, some say the blend wall is approaching much faster than anticipated. The required volumes of ethanol as set by the RFS must now be added to a smaller-than-expected pool of gasoline, and many experts predict the 10% blend wall may be reached as soon as this year.
While blends containing up to 10% ethanol have long been used, refiners are calling for production and marketing of higher blends to stay in compliance with the RFS.
The targets for the four fuel categories that make up the RFS mandates total 16.55 billion gallons for 2013, of which not more than 13.8 billion gallons is conventional biofuel. Conventional biofuel is scheduled to reach its cap of 15 billion gallons by 2015, while the other categories continue to rise until the total RFS reaches 36 billion gallons by 2022.
One measure to stay in compliance was the introduction of E15 blends. In 2012, the blend was granted an EPA waiver approving the fuel for use in some model year vehicles. But as the white paper mentions, there are concerns from some legislators and automakers not only with potential changes in engine performance but also with vehicle warranties.
Further, the paper notes, "There are serious questions whether E15 can be sold at gas stations alongside E10 without widespread instances of misfueling."
"To the extent E15 does become available and the [misfueling mitigation plans] are not successful, there is a risk of misfueling for the millions of owners of gasoline powered vehicles and other equipment that was not designed to use it. The potential mismatch between what the RFS will soon require and what the nation is ready to handle is one of the key reasons why we are undertaking this assessment," the white paper said.
The committee has compiled a list of stakeholder questions, and aims to address each concern with higher ethanol blends in the new report. The committee is requesting interested stakeholders to send responses to these questions by April 5, 2013.