Will EPA Undercut the RFS at the Start of the Paris Climate Change Conference?

ericksonBy Brent Erickson, Executive VP, Biotechnology Industry Organization, special to The Digest

With his planned visit to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference in the coming weeks, President Obama seeks a leading role for the United States in addressing global climate change. Unfortunately, that leading role could be forfeited before the conference even gets under way. The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release the final rules for the 2014-2016 Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) by November 30, the starting date of the Paris conference. And if the final rule maintains damaging cuts to biofuel use, it could gut America’s only law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The transportation sector generates roughly 30 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The RFS reduces these emissions by replacing fossil fuels with lower carbon, homegrown biofuels. In the ten years of its existence, it has displaced 1.9 billion barrels of foreign oil. The program especially incentivizes the development, production and use of advanced and cellulosic biofuels. The RFS spurred more than $6 billion of investment in the development of these fuels here in the United States. Innovative renewable fuel producers have commissioned full scale production plants over the past several years, demonstrating the potential of this new technology. They are ready and able to continue this development and ensure continued growth in the advanced biofuel production.

Unfortunately, after several years of successfully implementing the RFS, EPA proposed to turn the program upside down. Rather than require oil companies to use increasing amounts of biofuels, the agency proposed to allow oil companies to limit distribution of biofuels and take a free pass on their obligations under the law. The biofuel industry has been fighting to keep the agency from making this change, which appears unnecessary and unjustified, perhaps even illegal. For two years, EPA has been mired in indecisiveness, creating destabilizing uncertainty for the advanced biofuel industry. Since 2013, the uncertainty generated by EPA’s proposals and delays in finalizing rules has caused a shortfall of $13.7 billion in investment in advanced biofuels, according to our calculations.

EPA’s proposal would be disastrous both for the long-term development of renewable fuel and for our climate. It has already done damage in the immediate term. EPA admits that failing to issue rules in a timely manner for 2014 allowed oil companies to act as though the RFS didn’t exist. The delay added nearly 17.4 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere in 2014 and 34.9 million tons this year – that’s the equivalent of putting nearly 10 million additional cars on the road over the past two years.

In the past decade, the RFS has dramatically reduced transportation-related carbon emissions in the United States, cutting nearly 590 million metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of closing 155 coal-fired power plants. But under the current proposal, this progress would be put in reverse. Further, EPA’s proposal would have a dampening impact on the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, which have the greatest ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The successful deployment of these advanced biofuels depends on EPA administering the RFS consistent with Congressional intent.

President Obama has declared Americans energy innovators, stating that “there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate” on the issue. But EPA’s decision on the RFS will show the world whether America is committed to addressing carbon emissions from the transportation sector, nearly one third of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s proposal to gut the RFS is an enormous threat to the president’s climate legacy and America’s credibility on the world stage at the Paris Climate Change Conference.

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