EPA to finalize renewable fuel standards soon

Jan 29, 2010
by DTN

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to finalize “as soon as possible” standards that govern the amount of renewable energy in the nation’s fuel supply, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last Tuesday.

Biofuels makers have been waiting for the rules which are designed to implement a 2007 law that mandated an ever-increasing amount of biofuels be added to transportation fuel. This year, 12.95 billion gallons of renewable fuel must be part of the supply, up almost 17 percent from last year. Of that total, almost 1 billion gallons must come from advanced biofuels.

EPA has been working to determine what biofuels count as advanced. To qualify, each type of advanced biofuel must produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are at least 50 percent lower than the emissions associated with ordinary gasoline. The question is how to measure emissions, since EPA must look across the entire life cycle from the time a seed is planted to the time a fuel is burned. As part of that, EPA must account for the potential impact of clearing land that absorbs GHG to make room for crops that absorb less of the gases.

“We all understand what we’re trying to do, but the question is, ‘Does the model get you there?’” the EPA administrator said at the Washington Auto Show. The agency has been working to address uncertainty with earlier models, Jackson said. “For me to say more today would be for me to preview the final rule, and we’re not going to do that,” she said.

The agency’s ultimate decision will also determine what types of new biofuel plants may break ground. By law, new biofuel plants must produce fuels with GHG emissions that are at least 20 percent lower than emissions associated with traditional gasoline.

Another question involves the future of cornbased ethanol. When EPA proposed rules in May 2009, the agency outlined two different scenarios. One scenario largely favored the ethanol industry, and another would prohibit all but one corn ethanol production process. At issue is whether EPA determines that ethanol producers are able to find ways to operate more efficiently—such as through the use of enzymes or other processes.

Oil companies have their own concerns. ConocoPhillips told the White House recently that the system for ensuring that marketers comply with the standards wasn’t workable. The company also opposed an EPA proposal that would allow biodiesel to qualify.

The biodiesel industry is fighting back. The National Biodiesel Board has complained that companies aren’t buying biodiesel in mandated volumes because of EPA’s delay in issuing rules. — DTN