- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2015

The U.S. energy boom and low gas prices have wreaked havoc with the federal government’s mandate to blend more ethanol and other biofuels into fuel supplies, leaving the Obama administration under fire and struggling to meet the mandates set by Congress nearly a decade ago.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday released the latest targets for its Renewable Fuel Standard, which lays out how much ethanol and other biofuels must be included in gasoline. The new standards call for increases in blending over the next several years, but those increases fall far short of what lawmakers called for in 2007 legislation.

Lawmakers and other EPA critics say the latest standards reflect how the RFS, written years before U.S. oil and gas production exploded, 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,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, 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 what 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.”

But the EPA also admits that it is out of compliance with the levels set by Congress, largely because current fuel infrastructure and automobiles are unable to use gasoline that includes more than 10 percent ethanol. The inability to get beyond the 10-percent figure commonly is referred to as the “blend wall” and represents a serious hurdle for the ethanol industry.

“Due to constraints in the fuel market to accommodate increasing volumes of ethanol, along with limits on the availability of non-ethanol renewable fuels, the volume targets specified by Congress in the Clean Air Act for 2014, 2015 and 2016 cannot be achieved. However, EPA recognizes that the statutory volume targets were intended to be ambitious; Congress set targets that envisioned growth at a pace that far exceeded historical growth rates,” the EPA said in a fact sheet.

Opponents of the RFS say the administration must scrap the standard and acknowledge that more biofuel blending into gasoline supplies is not only unnecessary but economically dangerous.

“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.”

Specifically, the EPA said that in 2014 about 33 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel were blended with gasoline, along with 1.63 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel and 2.68 billion gallons of advanced biofuel.

For 2015, the agency is calling for those figures to increase to 106 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel; 1.7 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel; and 2.9 billion gallons of advanced biofuel. In 2016, the numbers increase further, to 206 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel; 3.4 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel; and 3.4 billion gallons of advanced biofuel.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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