Biofuel industry voices support for RFS as comment period ends

By Erin Voegele | July 27, 2015

July 27 is the final day members of the public can weigh in on the U.S. EPA’s recently released renewable fuel standard (RFS) proposal. As the comment period comes to a close, supporters of the biofuel industry are actively making their voices heard.

The comment period on the RFS proposal to set renewable volume obligations (RVO) for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 RFS, along with the 2017 RVO for biomass-based diesel, is set to close at 11:59 p.m. ET on July 27. The EPA released a prepublication version of the rulemaking on May 29. On June 10, the agency published the proposed rule in the Federal Register, officially opening the public comment period. 

According to information posted to Regulations.gov, approximately 47,634 comments had been filed on the proposal as of 11:59 p.m. July 26. As the final day of the comment period comes to a close, that number is likely to increase significantly.

Fuels America alone announced it delivered more than 200,000 comments to the EPA in support of the RFS on July 27. “The renewable fuel standard represents a promise to rural America—a promise that, when kept, helped rural economies across America make a strong comeback," said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union and one of the Fuels America members who dropped comments off at the EPA on the final day of the comment period. “Today’s tremendous show of support for a strong RFS shows that it is time for the EPA to stop choosing foreign oil over rural America, and start getting the RFS back on track.”

“Today, Americans are sending a strong signal to the EPA that its proposal to lower RVOs under the RFS is unacceptable,” said Erick Lutt, director of industrial and environmental policy at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, in a statement published by Fuels America. “The EPA’s misfires and delays have pulled the rug out from the American investors and innovators who have brought the next generation of biofuels online in the U.S. The EPA is already responsible for $13.7 billion in frozen investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels, and we’re risking sending jobs, innovation, and investment overseas. We can’t afford any more setbacks. The EPA must set RVOs consistent with Congress’ original intent in order to bring investment back to America and allow our country’s innovators to continue developing clean, secure American energy.”

Fuels America wasn’t the only organization delivering large volumes of comments to the EPA on July 27. VotVets.org announced it submitted nearly 47,000 petition signatures to the EPA, asking the agency to issue a rule that strengthens the RFS. “It is absolutely crucial, for the wellbeing of our military, and our national security, that we lessen our dependence on oil,” said Jon Soltz, Iraq veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org.  “A strong RFS is a key part of that equation.  It is very simple—every drop of renewable fuel in our gasoline means one less drop of oil.  The EPA should listen to those who love and support our military, and care about our national security, and strengthen the RFS.”

In its comments to the EPA, the Renewable Fuels Association urged the agency to implement the RFS as Congress intended, and to abandon its proposal to substantially slash the amount of biofuels that are to be blended with gasoline.

In a letter accompanying the written comments, RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen called the agency’s proposal to substantially reduce the 2014, 2015, and 2016 RVO surprising and imprudent. Dinneen charged the agency with buying into the oil industry’s false narrative regarding the so-called blend wall, and by doing so, he wrote, “EPA has unnecessarily and illegally curtailed the unprecedented evolution occurring in the transportation fuels market that was delivering technology innovation, carbon reduction, and consumer savings.”

“By failing to consider carry over [renewable identification numbers] RINs in the assessment of available supply; by miscalculating RIN retirement from ethanol exports; by underestimating gasoline demand; and, most importantly, by deliberately misunderstanding the statute’s general waiver authority to infuse consumption, infrastructure, and demand considerations into a provision designed explicitly for lack of supply, the agency has turned this important program on its head, rewarding oil companies for their steadfast refusal to allow renewable fuels access to the consumer—the very problem the RFS was designed to address,” Dinneen wrote.

Governors of at least two biofuel-producing states have also asked the EPA to revise its proposed RFS rulemaking. On July 27, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and several other state officials sent a letter to President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy encouraging the administration to revise its RFS rule.

“As state leaders, we are keenly focused on helping create a business and public policy environment that drives job growth throughout the state—in communities both large and small, urban and rural,” said the Iowa officials in the letter. “We share the concerns of many Iowans and citizens throughout the Midwest that the EPA’s current proposal will undermine our shared goal of a healthy economy in rural America and abandon the various public policy benefits that flow from the RFS. For decades, the agricultural economy lurched from crisis to crisis and farmers often depended on government subsidies to stay afloat. The RFS helped brighten the future of the agricultural and biosciences sectors by providing a stable policy framework that gives value-add opportunities for various agricultural commodities, while helping reduce transportation emissions—a true win-win.”

 “If the EPA’s proposed rule stands, consumers across America would be limited in their choices at the pump,” the officials continued in the letter. “When consumers have choices, like they do in Iowa, they choose ethanol and other biofuels. The oil companies are preventing fuel choice in other parts of the country and consumers lose, paying much more for fuel. The Iowa Department of Revenue tracks biofuels sales and the data is clear—when given the choice, Iowans choose biofuels. Consumer purchases of E85 (85 percent denatured ethanol fuel and 15 percent gasoline) in Iowa continue to increase—growing from 9.12 million gallons in 2012 to 11.15 million gallons in 2013, to 12.08 million gallons in 2014—a growth of nearly 33 percent in that period according to Iowa Department of Revenue data. Total B100 (100 percent biodiesel) sales in Iowa have expanded from 7.4 million gallons in 2010 to 33.3 million gallons in 2014. In 2010, the average blend level of biodiesel-blended gallons sold in Iowa was 3.1 percent and by 2014, the average blend level had more than tripled to 9.4 percent. Big Oil does not like competition—but American consumers deserve and demand choices at the fuel pump.”

On July 24, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Reynolds joined Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson and Novozymes General Manager Kyle Nixon at the company’s enzyme plant in Blair, Nebraska to rally support for the RFS.

“Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry, and ethanol is one of the key agricultural growth industries that have added billions in revenue and thousands of jobs over the past decade to our state,” Ricketts said. “These efforts were undertaken in expectation that such efforts would meet the commitment of this nation to renewable fuels established by the renewable fuel standard. Nebraskans have cause for concern because the EPA’s proposal to slash billions of gallons of biofuels from the RFS has the potential to negatively impact the future growth of our state. The RFS is an achievable and ambitious target and must be maintained.”

“A robust renewable fuel standard creates quality careers, increases family incomes, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, provides sustainable renewable energy, and fosters growth in the biofuels and agricultural industries,” Reynolds said. “Those of us in America’s Heartland know the importance of a strong renewable fuels standard and we hope as more supportive comments arrive before the July 27 deadline, the EPA will reverse course and partner with us to continue growing America’s renewable energy sector through a strong renewable fuel standard.”

“The RFS is not just a policy it’s how we live our lives. Today Novozymes has 127 full time employees in Nebraska and Iowa—jobs that were created in large part, due to the RFS,” Nixon said. “We care deeply for our communities and want to see benefits like jobs, worker training and tax revenues continue to grow.”

Those who wish to weigh in on the proposal have until 11:59 p.m. ET on July 27 to do so. Comments can be filed online at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0111. Additional information on how to submit comments is available on the EPA website. The EPA is expected to release a final version of its rule by Nov. 30.