House hearing on RFS fails to include input from biofuel industry

By Erin Voegele | March 16, 2016

On March 16, subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the U.S. EPA’s management of the renewable fuel standard (RFS). The ethanol industry has criticized the event for failing to include testimony from a representative of the biofuels industry.

Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality; John DeCicco, a research professor with the University of Michigan Energy Institute; Kelly Stone, a policy analyst with ActionAid USA; Wallace Tyner, James and Lois Ackerman Professor at Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics; and Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, offered testimony at the hearing.

During the nearly two hour event, Grundler was asked about future RFS standards. “I am not in a position to speculate what 2017, 2018, or 2019 standards will be,” he said. “That will be up to the administrator. We are doing the analysis right now for the 2017 volumes.”

Grundler responded to criticism that the recently released RFS renewable volume obligations for 2016 (RVOs) are holding back the biofuels industry, stating “the final standards we put into place by no means cripple this industry or its future.” Moving forward, Grundler said biofuel use is expected to trend upwards. “We foresee steady growth in these fuels as competition increases and as more facilities come online to produce these advanced fuels.”

Regarding the final rule to set 2014, 2015, and 2016 RVOs, along with the 2017 RVO for biomass-based diesel, Grundler noted the EPA exercised the tools Congress provided to reduce requirements significantly downward from those called for by RFS statute, “but only to the extent we thought was necessary.”

Grundler noted the EPA put a lot of effort into setting the recent RFS rule. “While the final standards, we believe, do go above this blend wall, the marketplace will have choices on how to achieve those standards,” he said. “We think they are achievable. We think we’ve done it in a responsible way.”

The hearing also addressed the future of the RFS after 2022. When crafting the RFS statute, Congress set statutory RVO levels through 2022, which the EPA can adjust downwards based on several factors. After 2022, the EPA will be tasked with setting annual requirements without the aid of statutory RVOs. Grundler explained that after 2022, the EPA is required to “establish what appropriate volumes should be.” He noted that Congress, however, did give the administrator a long list of factors to consider in setting those standards, including environmental impacts, impacts on energy security, impacts on costs to consumers, impacts on agriculture, and others.

When asked what the EPA’s post-2022 RVOs could look like, Grundler stressed that the agency has had a hard enough time setting standards one year in advance. “Figuring out what the world is going to look like in 2022 is pretty challenging,” he said. “So, the honest answer is we have no plans on what the standards would look like post 2022.”

A wide variety of other factors will discussed during the hearing, including food prices, land use, emissions impacts, the blend wall, and development of cellulosic fuels.

The Renewable Fuels Association issued a statement in response to the hearing, criticizing the event for failing to include a representative of the biofuels industry.  If invited to testify, the RFA said the ethanol industry would have talked about the numerous benefits of the program and why continued support is needed to help overcome barriers erected by the incumbent oil industry.

“Unfortunately, the committee has stacked the witness list with oil company apologists intent upon undermining public support for this important program,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA. “Why is the committee afraid to hear all sides of the debate?”

Growth Energy also criticized the hearing for failing to provide testimony from the ethanol industry. “Holding a hearing on the RFS without any biofuels stakeholders is unacceptable and defeats the very purpose of what this congressional committee is tasked to accomplish,” said Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy. “Inviting only vocal critics of the RFS and not a single producer or stakeholder in the ethanol industry to testify fails to provide this committee with an objective analysis of the issue. The lack of diversity of opinions on this panel exemplifies political theater designed to drive a false narrative and discredit the success of the RFS. Furthermore, one of the most vocal RFS critics on the witness list was a professor who has been funded by the American Petroleum Institute (API).”

“This is just more of the same old misinformation—a hearing that ignored hard data on the success of the RFS and that was packed with biofuel critics who relied on inaccurate information and misleading, manipulated data,” Buis continued. “Make no mistake, today’s hearing was nothing more than a coordinated attack against biofuels. Minus a few open-minded individuals who examined this issue based on facts, not pre-determined bias, this hearing did nothing to reflect the overwhelming contributions of the RFS.”

The hearing was hosted by the House Oversight Subcommittees on Interior and Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules. Additional information on the event, including written testimony and a video recording, is available on the committee’s website.