January 22, 2016

EPA's Flawed Ruling Gives Control of Biofuel Market to Oil Industry

In arguing that U.S. ethanol producers are upset by the recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower the number of gallons of biofuels refiners are required to use in 2016, William O’Keefe and Jane Van Ryan completely miss the point in their Dec. 14 blog post “Ethanol producers and politics, looking for trouble.” 

The industry’s objection to the EPA’s final rule has little to do with the numbers. Rather, U.S. ethanol producers have objected to the methodology the EPA used in straying away from the statutorily imposed blending requirements. 

For the first time ever, and contrary to what the statute allows, the agency has used a “distribution waiver” to justify a reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In doing so, the EPA has further empowered the oil industry in determining the pace of renewable fuel development in this country by rewarding its failure to make the minor infrastructure investments necessary to allow more biofuels to be used by more consumers. The EPA has quite literally placed the nation’s biofuels policy in the hands of the oil companies. 

The oil industry has proven time and again it will not make the investments needed to make renewable fuels more accessible to consumers. The RFS was designed to compel those investments and break the oil industry’s vice grip on the market. The EPA’s decision assures that vice grip will remain, denying consumers a choice at the pump and stalling the growth and evolution of biofuel technology. It’s a shame.

Of course, Mr. O’Keefe (who served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the American Petroleum Institute) and Ms. Van Ryan (who served as a communications professional for API) are quite satisfied with the EPA’s decision to leave the nation’s renewable energy policy in the hands of the oil industry. But that does not give them license to further pollute the debate with misinformation and flawed analysis paid for by oil companies and designed to undermine public support for biofuels. 

For example, the Coordinating Research Council study they cite suggesting vehicles can’t use higher blends of ethanol has been widely criticized for its biased design. And the notion that ethanol yields higher greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline is founded upon a 2008 paper suggesting significant international land use change affects that have simply not materialized. All of the recent independent scientific analyses conducted on ethanol have rightly concluded that ethanol produced today is 30 percent to 40 percent better than gasoline when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions — and if allowed to develop, advanced biofuels promise to be 90 percent better than gasoline.  

The real threat to the oil industry, and by extension Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Van Ryan, is that the RFS would deliver on its promise of replacing nearly a third of the nation’s gasoline with a domestically produced renewable fuel that both lowers carbon emissions and lowers costs for consumers. 

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