Nearly 42,500 comments filed on 2017 RFS proposal

By Erin Voegele | July 12, 2016

The comment period on the U.S. EPA’s proposed rule to set 2017 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the renewable fuel standard (RFS), along with 2018 RVOs for biomass-based diesel, has officially closed. According to information posted to the Regulations.gov website, nearly 42,500 public comments were filed on the proposal.

The agency has proposed to set the 2017 RVO for cellulosic biofuel at 312 million gallons, with the advanced biofuel RVO at 4 billion gallons and the RVO for total renewable fuel at 18.8 billion gallons. The 2018 RVO for biomass-based diesel has been proposed at 2.1 billion gallons.

During a recent House hearing, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator at the U.S. EPA, said the agency expects to issue a final rule by the November 2016 statutory deadline.

A wide variety of biofuel trade groups, stakeholders and supports filed comments with the EPA, with many advocating for the agency to increase the RVOs to statutory levels and arguing against the EPA’s interpretation of its waiver authority.  

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, noted the comments filed by her organization outline the case for why EPA must continue to move the RFS, and ultimately the development of biofuels forward. “It is vital that EPA meet the statutory biofuel targets for America’s fuel mix and keep their promises to consumers, investors and the nation,” she said. “The RFS always envisioned higher blends in the marketplace, such as E15, and currently ethanol producers, retailers and the current auto fleet are fully capable of providing consumers with a fair and open fuel marketplace and a true choice at the pump.”

Within its comments, Growth Energy called the EPA’s use of the general waiver authority to contort the definition of “supply” to mean supply and demand legally invalid. The organization’s comments also noted the EPA has significantly understated the volumes of E85 and E15 that could be consumed.

The Advanced Biofuels Business Council’s comments indicate the group is deeply concerned that the 2017 proposal will undercut investment in advanced biofuels due to the agency’s interpretation of its general waiver authority and methodologies used to administer the E3 cellulosic biofuel pool with specific regard to how it sets the annual cellulosic volumes and the issuance of cellulosic waiver credits. “EPA’s current approach in these areas undercuts the broader intent of the law to expand markets for low carbon fuels and violates the statute,” said the ABBC in its comments.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s comments also called the EPA’s interpretation of its statutory waiver authority flawed and noted the proposed RVOs are too low and should be revised upward. In the comments, Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said “BIO urges EPA to get the RFS back on track with a commitment to stable implementation of the program that tracks statutory requirements.”

“BIO and its members, and other market participants, have now experienced over two-and-a-half years of regulatory uncertainty, confusion, and lost opportunities attributable to EPA’s departure (first proposed by EPA in late 2013, and implemented by EPA in late 2015) from the basic purposes and requirements of the RFS statute,” continued BIO in its comments. “The 2014 RFS Proposal and ensuing EPA actions have undermined the basic goals of the RFS and have chilled investment in the biofuels industry—particularly in the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, which are required by statute to result in lower greenhouse gas emissions. The results have been to impede the development of a domestic sustainable alternative to petroleum and to increase greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign sources of oil in the transportation fuel sector.”

Comments filed by the American Coalition for Ethanol focus on six primary areas, including the EPA’s interpretation of the waiver authority and the need to increase RVO for conventional biofuel to statutory levels. ACE also said sales volumes from retailers and fuel marketers that are able to offer E15 and flex fuels prove the blend wall is a myth and stresses the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol is undermined by the way EPA is applying the general waiver authority and cellulosic waiver credits. In addition, ACE criticized EPA’s unwillingness to be proactive about Reid vapor pressure (RVP) and meaningful credits for flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), noting the agency is making developing new markets for E15 and flex fuels much more challenging. ACE also said the EPA has a responsibility to update its lifecycle modeling to keep up with the latest science.

“While we appreciate that EPA is proposing to increase ethanol blending levels from 2016, we are disappointed EPA continues to rely on a dubious interpretation of the general waiver authority which is contrary to the statute and has disrupted RFS implementation for more than a year,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE.

 “Ultimately, it is up to EPA to get the RFS back on track by enforcing the RFS the way it has stood its ground on previous efforts to ensure clean air,” Jennings continued. “In the 1970s, oil companies complained that forcing them to remove lead from gas would increase prices at the pump.  In the 1990s, oil companies said new underground storage tank regulations would lead to the disappearance of gas stations.  In the early 2000s, refiners said reducing the sulfur content of gasoline would destroy engines.  Each time the oil sector made these doomsday predictions, EPA stood its ground.  Each time EPA stood its ground, the air got a bit cleaner and none of the predicted disasters occurred.  Today oil companies are claiming that if EPA enforces the RFS as Congress intended, it will lead to similarly dire consequences.  Today, it is up to EPA to see through oil company attacks and to get the RFS back on track.”

The Renewable Fuels Association also urged the EPA to raise the RVO for conventional biofuel to the statutory level of 15 billion gallons. “EPA seems to be burdened by a fundamental misunderstanding of the RFS,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen in comments to EPA. “By adopting the narrative of the oil industry with regard to how much ethanol can be blended into gasoline, EPA has incomprehensibly and illegally curtailed the continued evolution occurring in the transportation fuels market that is delivering technology innovation, carbon reduction and consumer savings.”

“The agency continues to justify reducing required volumes of conventional renewable fuel by suggesting that certain ‘marketplace realities’ preclude refiners from meeting the higher statutory volumes,” Dinneen continued. “This narrative hinges upon a belief that refiners and gasoline marketers simply cannot supply higher volumes of ethanol to consumers because of a lack of infrastructure, consumer demand, or vehicles that could safely utilize fuels containing more than 10% ethanol.

Public comments filed on the RFS proposal can be downloaded from the Regulations.gov website under Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0004