RFS: Doing what Congress intended

The RFS is just a decade old and its results have been wide-ranging and long-lasting, writes Bob Dinneen of RFA. This column appears in the October issue of EPM.
By Bob Dinneen | September 15, 2015

It’s that time of year again, when leaves make their seasonal color change and pumpkins are carefully placed on every porch. Another year is on its way out. Time, it seems, is never on our side; it’s always zipping by us faster than we expect. The ethanol industry had quite the significant “has it been this long?” moment in August when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of what is arguably our nation’s most successful energy policy: the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Over the past 10 years, the RFS has made an indelible impact on the nation’s economy, environment, and energy security.

The RFS is powering America’s rural economy in ways we could not have imagined before the Energy Policy Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. Since then, ethanol industry jobs have more than doubled, driving a threefold increase in annual ethanol production from plants nationwide to its historic height of 14.3 billion gallons in 2014. Farmers are now producing 25 bushels of corn per acre thanks to higher yields—all without expanding onto additional lands—and the doubling of corn prices has saved families from the brink of bankruptcy.

The RFS is, of course, a multifaceted program that was created to tackle critical energy issues gripping the nation at the time of its passage. In 2005, the United States imported three-fifths of its petroleum needs. Today, that number rests at just over a quarter. Notably, ethanol’s rise to claim 10 percent of the gasoline pool has virtually eliminated all gasoline import dependence. Last year, the Energy Information Administration found that ethanol displaced the gasoline equivalent of 512 million barrels of crude oil, which is more than all the oil America imports every year from Saudi Arabia.

But what is a comprehensive energy plan without a consideration of its environmental impact? Ethanol continues to be unquestionably cleaner than fossil fuels. Conventional ethanol is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline. That means less carbon monoxide, benzene and other toxic hydrocarbons are polluting our atmosphere. The lowered emissions each year equate to removing more than 8 million cars from the road. If cleaner tailpipe emissions aren’t already a draw, consumers can look forward to cheaper gas prices, thanks to ethanol. On average, ethanol saves drivers about a dollar per gallon at the pump.

The fact is the RFS is doing what Congress intended it to do 10 years ago. The American public recognizes that fact. The U.S. EPA, however, does not seem to want to hear about the public’s satisfaction with the program. Its proposal to drastically slash volumetric blending requirements for refiners proves that the agency instead prefers to listen to the same misinformation that the oil companies have been propagating for years. As the EPA witnessed at its June hearing Kansas City, support for the RFS at the ground level is ubiquitous and strong. EPA’s proposal will only reverse the program’s success in the name of Big Oil profits.

The RFS is just a decade old and its results have been wide-ranging and long-lasting. Ethanol production, corn yields, and the number of rural American jobs are up, while oil imports, greenhouse gas emissions and gas prices are down. At a time when the White House is making a concerted effort to move America beyond the 20th century kilns of the coal factories, biofuels are now more important than ever. The stability the RFS has brought to the ethanol industry has not only economically rejuvenated the nation, but it has driven the innovation necessary to propel advanced biofuels into the forefront. What was once a niche gasoline supplement has found its footing and is being recognized for what it is: the fuel of the future.

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association