Reactions to RFS are many and varied

By Holly Jessen | January 04, 2010
Posted Feb. 3, 2010

As the long-awaited final RFS was released at a Feb. 3 White House press conference, everyone from ethanol industry supporters to environmentalists weighed in with a virtual blizzard of press releases. Reactions were mixed. "Typical of most decisions made in Washington, there is some good and some bad in the Renewable Fuel Standard final rule announced today," said Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) who serves as the chairman of the agriculture committee.

First, the good news. The Renewable Fuels Association released a press release that celebrated the fact that the U.S. EPA recognized carbon benefits from all ethanol, including corn."As structured, the RFS is a workable program that will achieve the stated policy goals of reduced oil dependence, economic opportunity, and environmental stewardship," said Bob Dinneen, president of RFA.

Growth Energy was also pleased, saying the final rule had several improvements over its proposed rule released last year. "First, we're pleased with the decision to make volume levels of domestic ethanol retroactive to the first of the year - this is a significant step toward reducing dependence on foreign oil, creating U.S. jobs, and improving the environment," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. "Further, we're pleased that EPA recognizes grain ethanol as a low-carbon fuel, and changed its indirect land use change (ILUS) penalty from its original proposal last year."

That doesn't mean Growth Energy is happy about the fact that ILUC is included in the RFS at all. "While we appreciate that EPA recognizes the uncertainty of ILUC, the fact remains that ILUC is still in the rule," Buis said. "This puts the cart before the horse, and our position is that ILUC should not be applied in regulation until we have a thorough, long-term study of the issue."

RFA also reported disappointment over "oft-challenged and unproven theories" on ILUC. That puts U.S. biofuels at a disadvantage to imported ethanol and petroleum. The press release went on to repeat, however, that the RFS was a workable program that showed greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of all ethanol compared to gasoline. "At the end of the day, the RFS is public policy that can and will work effectively," it said.

The American Coalition for Ethanol said it was pleased that the final rule reflected that fact that corn ethanol has an advantage over gasoline in the area of GHG emissions. Still, ACE said, the regulations seriously underestimate ethanol. "We don't believe the agency's overall assessment of ethanol's GHG reduction potential was good enough or accurate," said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE.

ILUC is a theory based on computer modeling, not real-life data. If it were removed from the RFS corn ethanol would represent a 61 percent reduction in GHG emissions, ACE said.

Poet Inc., which has 26 ethanol plants across the nation, said it welcomed the President's biofuels strategy but had concerns about the EPA rules. "Although the international indirect land use change penalty has been lessened somewhat, EPA still relied on the disproven theory when all of the data shows that ethanol production continues to improve and isn't requiring new land," said Jeff Broin, CEO of Poet.

UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, quickly responded with a press release on the EPA's designation of sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel that lowers GHG emissions by more than 50 percent. "Perhaps this recognition will sway those who have sought to raise trade barriers against clean energy here in the U.S. and around the world. Sugarcane ethanol is a first generation biofuel with third generation performance," said Joel Velasco, UNICA's Chief Representative in Washington.

That's not the way Growth Energy sees it. Buis commented that he didn't think Congress intended for Brazilian sugarcane ethanol to get preferred status over home-grown ethanol. "It won't make the U.S. any more energy independent by switching our addiction from foreign oil to foreign ethanol," he said.

Nathanael Greene, Natural Resources Defense Council's director of renewable energy policy, viewed the rule as a way to move beyond corn ethanol. "The final rule confirms that some biofuels reduce global warming and some pollute more than gasoline and diesel," he said. "This proves how important it is to put policies in place to make sure public dollars go to support real renewable energy instead of going after options that do not work and could actually do more harm than good."

A science group, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), praised the EPA for including ILUC. The EPA used a transparent process that produced accurate data on lifecycle heat-trapping emissions, the group said. "We now have a yardstick to measure the global warming pollution from different biofuels," said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in UCS's Clean Vehicles Program.