US EPA reviewing public RFS2 comments

By Kris Bevill | October 06, 2009
The public commentary period on the U.S. EPA's proposed implementation of the second stage of the renewable fuels standard (RFS2) officially closed Sept. 25. The agency, which is now reviewing the thousands of comments submitted in response to its proposal, is scheduled to issue its final rule by Dec. 1, although most affected parties believe it will delay its rule until 2010.

Many ethanol-related groups filed final-day comments as a way to summarize the many issues being confronted by the complex rule. The most-addressed issue was, not surprisingly, the inclusion of indirect land use change (ILUC) in the EPA's lifecycle analysis for biofuels.

The American Coalition for Ethanol requested that the EPA eliminate ILUC from the rule entirely and said it could not support the rule unless this is done. "By breathing life into the controversial ILUC theory, EPA is setting a dangerous precedent for future sources of biofuels," ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said. "We recommend that EPA should insist upon greater scientific consensus and real-world data of so-called ILUC effects from biofuels before moving forward to apply them to the final rule."

The Renewable Fuels Association asserted that Congress never intended for ILUC to be considered in the EPA's rule, and the agency is overreaching its authority by making those inclusions.

Many commenters addressed the EPA's glaring exclusion of petroleum-based fuels from its ILUC analysis. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said, "To employ these enormous and game-changing results against biofuels without applying similar rigor to petroleum fuel impacts seems a very shaky foundation on which to build a renewable fuel standard for future generations." Jennings said the EPA's exclusion of petroleum's indirect greenhouse gas emissions as a result of energy spent by the U.S. military to protect oil supplies and transportation routes is "remarkable and, frankly, bizarre. To ignore these petroleum-related indirect emissions means that EPA's comparison of emissions from biofuels versus petroleum is at best intellectually dishonest and at worst a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the truth."

Jennings said the EPA, with a "strong backing of groups who do not want to see biofuels succeed," gave credence to a controversial and untested ILUC theory masterminded by anti-ethanol attorney Tim Searchinger. Jennings said Searchinger devised ILUC to be a market-induced ripple effect that is predicted to occur as a result of the use of increased volumes of corn ethanol and doesn't consider that farmers in developing nations and remote regions make decisions based on their immediate need to feed their families rather than corn futures prices in the U.S.

Growth Energy President Tom Buis specifically addressed the grandfather provision of the proposed rule as a key issue. "EPA needs to follow the law, and their current proposal would subject today's production facilities to a confusing array of new requirements that would make it very hard to recover the value of the ethanol industry's billions of dollars of investment in current ethanol plants," he said. Growth Energy maintains that corn ethanol plants that were in operation or under construction in 2007 be allowed to operate fully without being hindered by new regulations.

Members of the ethanol industry do not oppose a delayed final rule from the EPA but stressed that 2010 volume requirements should be set as soon as possible. The RFA reminded the agency that the EPA has a statutory mandate to ensure RFS volumes are met each year, including 2010, regardless of the implementation of a final RFS2 rule. Jennings urged the EPA to enforce volumetric requirements as soon as practicable, but in a way that does not apply ILUC, adding, "It is more important to our members that the RFS2 rule is done right than done quickly."