EPA holds hearing on RFS2 rulemaking

By Erin Voegele | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 10, 2009, at 5:45 p.m. CST

The U.S. EPA held a hearing June 9 to discuss the inclusion of indirect land use in its proposed rule for the second stage of the renewable fuels standard (RFS2). Representatives of several industry associations, including the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, offered testimony on the subject.

"By expanding the renewable fuels standard, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) capitalizes on the substantial benefits that renewable fuels offer," said RFA President Bob Dinneen. "However, for the potential benefits of the RFS2 to be fully realized, it is imperative that the regulation is guided by sound science, transparent analysis and economic modeling that stands up to scrutiny."

Dinneen described several components of the proposed rule that the RFA and its members would like the EPA to address. One of the organization's primary concerns is the inclusion of international land use change emissions in the proposed rule. According to Dinneen, the RFA is concerned with the tremendous amount of uncertainty and speculation associated with EPA's lifecycle analysis of biofuels, as well as the the ways in which models are integrated, validated and peer reviewed.

Dinneen also encouraged the EPA to take a closer look at using 2005 as the baseline for gasoline, as this baseline ignored the carbon impacts of the increased use of marginal petroleum supplies, such as the Canadian tar sands. In addition, Dinneen said, the EPA has assigned no indirect effects to petroleum products.

Other areas of concern outlined by Dinneen include the definition of renewable biomass, the registration, recordkeeping and reporting requirements included in the proposed rule, and the lack of a site-specific mechanism for measuring life cycle analysis that would allow for individual facilities to demonstrate their individual carbon footprints. The RFA supported an option in the proposed rulemaking that would push back the start date of the RFS2 program one year, until Jan. 1, 2011.

Mark Stowers, Poet LLC's vice president of science and technology, represented Growth Energy at the hearing. "EPA's proposal is arbitrary - particularly when considering EPA's own finding in its 2009 proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rule that measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural sources and land uses are ‘prohibitively expensive, complex and costly, technically difficult, impractical, and have a high degree of uncertainty,'" he said.

Stowers said the models used by the EPA to measure life cycle GHG emissions are limited in many areas and hold emissions constant from all fuels, employ limited actual land use data, and fail to make apples-to-apples comparisons with gasoline. He said the models also fail to consider the impact of political drivers on land use, underestimate the offsets from ethanol coproducts, and underestimate corn and ethanol yields.

According to Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's Industrial and Environmental Section, EPA's inclusion of indirect land use change considerations in the life cycle analysis of biofuels could chill investments in next-generation technologies. "Deployment of these advanced technologies depends critically on both the continued growth and evolution of first-generation biofuels and on fair, consistent, flexible, and reliable regulatory support from the federal government," Erickson said.

"The EPA's own analysis makes clear that the infancy of the science makes the determination of international impacts highly uncertain at best," he continued. "Furthermore, EPA's proposed approach to classifying biofuels into a limited number of rigid, predetermined categories limits the industry's ability to innovate, since practice and process improvements are not recognized or rewarded."