August 2, 2016

EP Should Maintain Renewable Fuel Standard

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) don’t agree on much — but then again, U.S. senators from different parties rarely seem to agree on anything these days.

That’s why it was encouraging to see democracy at work, when leaders from across the political spectrum recognized the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard, and decided to work across the aisle to make the program a success. That’s exactly what happened last month among 39 bipartisan champions of the RFS — including Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — who sent a joint letter to the Environmental Protection Agency urging the administration to stay true to the goals of America’s best renewable energy policy.

In the letter, lawmakers from Connecticut to Hawaii made a simple request to the EPA: follow the law. Since 2005, the RFS has required oil companies to offer consumers renewable fuel blends at the gas pump. As a result, 97% of the fuel in every tank contains some amount of ethanol or other biofuel, grown right here in the United States. That renewable share is meant to grow, weaning America off foreign oil, while keeping the air clean and supporting a flourishing homegrown energy sector to replace exporters in the Middle East.

The strategy has been a clear success. Thanks to the RFS, growth in the biofuels sector now reverberates throughout our economy. America’s ethanol industry supports 28,000 manufacturing jobs across the United States, and many of those jobs are among manufacturers of equipment farmers use to grow, maintain and harvest feedstocks for ethanol production.

It also turns out that ethanol is the least expensive way to boost the octane in fuel, allowing for more efficient engine performance and eliminating the need for the kind of poisonous additives that refiners used in the past, such as MTBE and lead.

Fortunately, our senators seem to see the advantages of not relying on oil from the Middle East, if for different reasons. Some like that it attracts investments that would otherwise go to China or Brazil and that it gives America greater leverage against petroleum ministers in Russia and Iran. They also like that it supports American jobs and saves consumers anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per gallon during periods of high oil prices.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the RFS is part of the green energy revolution. Biofuels are helping to decarbonize America’s transportation sector and clear the air of smog, particulates and ozone. The average corn-based ethanol slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 34% compared to gasoline, while some of the newer cellulosic biofuels are essentially carbon neutral, according to Department of Energy-sponsored research.

Whatever their motivations, these senators demonstrated that good policy doesn’t always have to fall prey to partisan power struggles. The question now is whether the EPA is listening. Earlier this year, the agency proposed cutting 2017 conventional biofuel targets by 200 million gallons. The proposal is still under review, and with the end of an official comment period this week, regulators have until Nov. 30 to issue a final rule.

The choice policymakers make now will determine how painful the next spike in gasoline prices will be. When that happens, it’ll be too late for new oil drills or fresh windmills to protect our economy, but those who reached across the aisle to support America’s most successful green energy program will deserve our thanks for thinking ahead.

That’s good news for both consumers and the manufacturers across America who support thousands of jobs thanks to the RFS.

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