EPA to revise RFS in 2009

By Jerry W. Kram | September 08, 2008
The U.S. EPA won't be releasing regulations to implement the second stage of the renewable fuel standard (RFS), enacted in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, until mid-2009. Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in July that the "RFS2" includes new elements that add complexity to the program. The EPA's final ruling was previously to be issued by Jan. 1.

The RFS was first enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and called for 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels consumption by 2012. RFS2 increases the total mandated renewable fuel volumes to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. Several other changes were made, as well.

For example, the original RFS established two categories of renewable fuels: conventional biofuel and cellulosic ethanol. RFS2 increases the number of renewable fuels categories to four: conventional biofuel, advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel and cellulosic biofuels. Part of the delay in RFS2 regulation will stem from the need to establish systems to track the production of these fuels and demonstrate compliance with four separate standards, Meyers said. RFS2 will also include off-road gasoline and diesel fuel for the first time.

Cellulosic biofuels will make up most of the new requirement under the RFS2. EISA increased the cellulosic biofuel mandate from 250 million gallons to 1 billion gallons by 2013, with additional annual increases to 16 billion gallons in 2022. In order to achieve this level of production, the EPA will have to make many critical determinations. For example, according to Meyers, EISA authorizes the EPA in certain circumstances to adjust the cellulosic biofuel standard to a level lower than what was specified in the law. However, it also requires that if the EPA adjusts the standard, it must also make credits available for compliance purposes and provide instructions on how to establish a specific price for these credits.

EISA also requires the EPA to apply life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) standards to each category of renewable fuel. Meyers said the EPA has done a substantial amount of work on life cycle analysis over the past year, and has made significant advances in its methodology, data inputs and assessment of land use changes. However, he anticipates extensive comments from all stakeholders on both life cycle analysis inputs and methodology before these rules are put into place.

RFS2 also changed the definition of renewable fuel feedstocks in a fundamental manner. The new law limits the crops and crop residues used to produce renewable fuel to those grown on land cleared or cultivated, either actively managed or fallow, and non-forested before the enactment of EISA. Meyers said the EPA will have to have extensive contact with the USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative, and farmers and lands to create appropriate and enforceable regulations on this. The EPA has started these discussions, Meyers said, and plans to continue this dialogue throughout the regulatory process. EISA also requires that forest-related slash and tree thinnings used for renewable fuel production not come from federal forestlands.