Tuesday, December 01, 2015

EPA makes ethanol decision that ticks off both sides

By Rob Nikolewski

The Environmental Protection Agency got a two-fer on Monday: It made a decision on ethanol that angered both sides of the debate concerning one of the federal government’s most controversial mandates.

The mandated amount of renewable fuels will rise, but not as much as originally announced.

As part of the Renewable Fuel Standard, billions of gallons of renewable fuels must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply every year. The vast majority of the fuel used is corn-based ethanol.

For its supporters, ethanol is a valuable tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on oil. For critics, the RFS is unnecessary and ethanol requirements amount to a giveaway to Corn Belt states, especially Iowa, where presidential candidates travel to campaign for support in the Iowa caucus.

After delays, EPA came out Monday with requirements for renewable fuel volumes for 2014 through 2016 under the RFS.

Originally, 22.25 billion gallons of renewable fuel were to be blended by 2016.

EPA officials announced the mandated amount will be reduced to 18.11 billion gallons.

The new figure still represents an increase from previous years, a fact EPA officials were at pains to point out Monday afternoon.

“We know we need to continue to push the market so that lower greenhouse gas fuels get to consumers’ gas tanks,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

But McCabe acknowledged that advanced fuels “have not developed as fast as Congress anticipated” when the RFS was instituted in 2005 and bolstered in 2007.

EPA’s decision didn’t make supporters of the RFS happy, with one Iowa biofuels group calling it a “gut punch.”

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, objected to EPA making changes to RFS fuel volumes by using “distribution waivers” instead of following its original plan.

“This is really an Obama administration rule,” Coleman told Watchdog.org. “They didn’t close the loopholes that allow oil companies to escape their obligations under the law.”

But the oil industry, long opposed to the RFS, wasn’t dancing a jig on Monday, either.

“EPA’s final rule relies on unrealistic increases in sales of higher ethanol fuel blends despite the fact that most cars cannot use them,” Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement. “Motorists have largely rejected these fuels.”

EPA’s announcement comes on the same day President Barack Obama appeared at the Paris climate summit, where he is keen to show that his administration is making strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But Coleman said Monday’s decision by EPA undercuts that message.

“When he ran, he was Mr. Biofuels,” Coleman said. “Now that the oil industry has puffed out its chest and said ‘we don’t want to do it,’ he’s changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

But when it comes to corn ethanol, a number of environmental groups are making at least as much noise in opposition as are oil companies.

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