EPA must listen to the people on RFS

The EPA must listen to the voice of the American people, who have an outspoken desire for a strong RFS, writes Bob Dinneen, of the RFA. This column appears in the August issue of EPM.
By Bob Dinneen | July 21, 2015

The U.S. Constitution, one of the most important documents in our nation’s history, begins with three simple, yet very powerful, words: “We the people.” Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to work on behalf of the people. I have also had the pleasure of working with people who are passionate about the biofuels industry. Folks who wholeheartedly believe that renewable fuels can reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and revitalize rural economies.

In August, Washington, D.C., changes character, transforming itself from a bustling city into a more sedate town. August is when members of Congress return to their home districts and states. While at home, these members often host town hall meetings where they give their constituents—their people—an update on what is happening in Congress, take questions, and listen to concerns.  After all, as public servants, members of Congress are supposed to represent the people.

But members of Congress are not the only representatives of the people. Our government institutions are also charged with looking out for the best interests of the people. In June, officials from the U.S. EPA traveled to Kansas City, Kansas, for a public hearing that gave the agency a chance to hear what the people had to say about the agency’s implementation of the renewable fuel standard (RFS).  People from all walks of life, from farmers in the heartland to academics in our nation’s largest cities, attended the hearing because they wanted the EPA to hear their voices.  And what the EPA heard was a near unanimous chorus of frustration with the way the agency is implementing the RFS. Conrad Clement of Conrad Clement Farms summed up the feeling of those in attendance when, during his testimony, he called the RFS “America’s most successful policy in 40 years,” but charged that the EPA was “tearing [the RFS] apart.” Clement urged the EPA to “endorse the original RFS as it was.”

I’ve said time and time again that there is nothing wrong with the RFS that cannot be fixed by what is right with the RFS. All the EPA has to do is to implement the statute as Congress intended. But instead of setting the renewable volume requirements at the levels that Congress established, the agency is proposing to cut them by 20 percent, or a total of 11.3 billion gallons, over the course of three years. I can assure you that the oil companies will happily fill the void with gasoline and diesel fuel refined from dirtier and more costly sources of crude oil.

Under the RFS, ethanol produced at current levels has virtually wiped out our nation’s need to import finished gasoline, reducing these imports from 600,000 barrels per day a decade ago to near nothing today. Ethanol also drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions, removing the equivalent of 8.4 million cars from the road each year. Instead of building on the success of the RFS, however, the EPA showed in its proposal that it clearly bought into Big Oil’s false claims that ethanol has reached its saturation point at a 10 percent ethanol blend, and that higher-level ethanol blends, such as E15 and E85, are not yet available enough to justify a higher blending requirement.

The EPA proposal is creating a tsunami of RINs. When EPA considers whether the supply of renewable fuel is “adequate” to meet statutory volumetric requirements, stocks of RIN credits must be taken into account. After all, RINs represent gallons of renewable fuels that were produced and are part of the physical fuel supply. To completely dismiss carryover RINs from the determination of available supply is not only illogical but also creates disincentives for investing in pumps and technology. The EPA needs to let the RIN market work as intended to drive investment and innovation.

I commend the EPA for going to the heart of the conversation and holding the hearing in the Midwest, but the agency cannot simply discard the comments at the next convenient opportunity. The EPA must listen to the voice of the American people, who have an outspoken desire for a strong RFS, and not the oil industry.

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association
202-289-3835