- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Obama administration’s move last week to increase the amount of ethanol and other renewable fuels that must be blended into gasoline supplies left virtually everyone unhappy, casting new doubt on the future of the government’s long, contentious Renewable Fuel Standard.

The RFS, codified with 2007 legislation written before the U.S. energy boom, has become increasingly unpopular and its targets difficult to achieve as domestic oil-and-gas production levels have gone through the roof in recent years. The RFS was written at a time when blending ethanol into fuel supplies seemed a worthwhile complement to an effort to both lower prices at the pump and increase U.S. energy security.

Despite today’s relatively low gas prices, and with American energy production at record highs largely because of fracking and other technological breakthroughs, the Environmental Protection Agency still is forging ahead with the RFS. On Friday, the agency released a higher set of targets, though they fall far short of what Congress envisioned nearly a decade ago.

Critics say the agency is going in precisely the wrong direction, arguing that the standards remain entirely unrealistic and that the RFS must be scrapped or, at the very least, dramatically overhauled.

EPA’s announcement adds to the building evidence of how poorly the agency has managed the renewable fuel standard, and how the mandate is in need of significant reform and oversight. Clearly, the statutory volumes are unachievable,” Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said in a statement. “Congress wrote the RFS with the assumption that gasoline demand would continue to increase significantly due to concerns about domestic sources of energy. However, the shale boom has led to extensive growth in U.S. oil and gas production.”

The EPA’s latest targets are more than a year behind schedule. As a result, the agency released a 2014 standard that reflects “the actual amount of domestic biofuel use in that year.” The EPA also released targets for 2015 and 2016.

For 2014, the EPA said the total amount of renewable fuel blending was 15.93 billion gallons. It has proposed raising that figure to 16.30 billion gallons in 2015 and 17.40 billion gallons in 2016 — more than 4 billion gallons per year lower than the amount Congress called for in the 2007 legislation.

“This proposal marks an important step forward in making sure the Renewable Fuel Standard program delivers on the congressional intent to increase biofuel use, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security,” said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “We believe these proposed volume requirements will provide a strong incentive for continued investment and growth in biofuels.”

In announcing the standard, the EPA acknowledged the so-called “blend wall” — the inability of most vehicles to use gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol and the lack of infrastructure to deliver fuel with higher amounts of renewable fuels. The agency said that reality is the reason its updated RFS standards fell far below what Congress called for in 2007.

But supporters of the RFS — which includes Republicans from corn-producing states such as Iowa, which benefit greatly from the ethanol requirements — say the administration should simply force the energy sector to overcome the blend wall.

EPA is still allowing the oil industry’s refusal to comply with the RFS to be cause to slow the program down. If the Obama administration continues to reward noncompliance with clean energy laws, clean energy laws will cease to be effective,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council.

It remains to be seen whether the EPA’s new targets can be achieved. If they are, critics suggest, consumers will pay in the form of higher food prices.

EPA is saddled with the impossible task of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” said the RFS Off the Menu coalition, a campaign focused on killing the RFS standard. “It is time for Congress to recognize the RFS is a failed policy and either repeal it altogether or engage in a wholesale overhaul. Nothing EPA or any other agency can do will alleviate the RFS’ undeniable impact on food commodity prices.”

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