EPA finished off a week of challenging relations with the agriculture community by announcing its long-delayed renewable fuel standards for 2014 through 2016.
It adds up to 15.93 billion gallons of renewable fuel for 2014, 16.3 billion gallons in 2015, and 17.40 billion gallons in 2016, according to the EPA’s “ambitious, yet responsible growth” plan for the biofuel industry.
“This proposal marks an important step forward in making sure the renewable fuel standard program delivers on the Congressional intent to increase biofuel use, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security,” said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air, which released the figures Friday. “We believe these proposed volume requirements will provide a strong incentive for continued investment and growth in biofuels.”
The standards cover cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and corn ethanol.
While the numbers do represent an increase in the amount of biofuel required in the past by the EPA, the proposed volumes are lower than Congress had targeted.
It was not what seemingly anyone wanted to hear.
"The anti-ethanol crowd, led by grocery chains and corn users, insists that every acre of corn used for ethanol keeps food and feed prices higher than they would be otherwise," noted Alan Brugler of Brugler Marketing and Management. "Ethanol and corn grower groups aren’t happy because there is surplus corn available both here and around the world, and the proposed targets are below what the actual law required. Lawsuits are expected."
“EPA has to be given some credit for attempting to get the RFS back on track by increasing the renewable volume obligations (RVOs) over time,” said Bob Dineen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “But the frustrating fact is the agency continues to misunderstand the clear intent of the statute — to drive innovation in both ethanol production and ethanol marketing. The agency has eviscerated the program’s ability to incentivize investments in infrastructure that would break through the blend wall and encourage the commercialization of new technologies. … Today’s announcement represents a step backward for the RFS.”
Biofuel producers agreed.
“Today’s proposal by the EPA puts the oil industry’s agenda ahead of farmers and rural America. While the EPA is correct in recognizing the intent of Congress to continue growth in biofuels, the targets announced today fall well short of rural America’s potential to produce low-cost, clean-burning ethanol,” said Jeff Lautt, CEO of POET, the South Dakota-based ethanol producer. “America’s farmers have answered the call laid out in the Renewable Fuel Standard to help wean our nation off of foreign oil. Agriculture has taken incredible strides in recent years, growing yields through efficient farming practices and technology improvements, and we have all reaped the benefits of that labor through greater availability of high-performance, domestically produced ethanol.”
Some members of Congress were also unhappy with the EPA’s proposal.
“Unfortunately, EPA’s announcement falls short of accomplishing the goals laid out in the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The advanced biofuels industry creates thousands of jobs in rural America, all while reducing pollution and reducing our dependency on foreign oil.”
Crop farmers and renewable energy producers got much better news from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who made another big biofuels announcement on Friday: the USDA’s new $100 million Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership.
"USDA’s investments in renewable fuel infrastructure will help us meet future Renewable Fuel Standard targets and lay the ground work for more investments in advanced biofuels," Senator Stabenow said. "I applaud USDA for supporting producers of renewable energy by getting fuels to consumers at the pump."
The USDA's grants-based initiative is intended to help states develop the market for renewable fuel, particularly higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.
"American-made, clean energy sources support the environment, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and sustain the economy in rural communities across the country. We are fortunate that our farmers are producing record amounts of feedstock for these fuels," Vilsack said. "However, a combination of factors, including lower commodity prices and reduced demand for feed as the poultry industry recovers from highly pathogenic avian influenza, are creating uncertainty for America's corn and soybean producers. With this partnership, USDA is helping to ensure the infrastructure is in place for consumers to access more renewable fuels, expand marketing opportunities for farmers, and grow America's rural economies."