EPA proposes lowering requirements gas

30 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EPA proposes changes to ethanol use in gas.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s latest plan on ethanol, the corn-based renewable fuel, probably will not have a major effect on pump prices, but could have political reverberations in Iowa and other farm states in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday released a much-delayed proposal governing the amount of biofuel that must be blended into conventional vehicle fuel, seeking to reduce the levels specified in the mandate but still require modest increases over the next few years. The proposal, which would become final by the end of November, would set levels for last year at what producers actually made but increase the total volume of renewable fuel required by 1.5 billion gallons, roughly 9 percent, by the end of 2016. “There are real limits to the actual amounts of biofuels that can be supplied to consumers at this time,” Janet McCabe, the EPA administrator, wrote in a blog post. “These proposed volumes are achievable in the time frames under consideration. The EPA’s blend proposal gradually increases the gallons required, but not as dramatically as the 2007 Energy Independence & Security Act had originally envisioned for the renewable fuel standard. At the same time, the volumes steadily increase every year, reflecting Congress’s clear intent to drive up the nation’s use of renewable fuel.” The announcement represents the latest turn in the agency’s beleaguered journey since it began requiring increasing levels of ethanol to be incorporated into vehicle fuel under energy laws passed in 2005 and 2007.

The proposed requirements cover the years 2014, 2015 and 2016. (The requirements for 2014 are retroactive, reflecting the amounts actually used that year, since the proposed amounts had been repeatedly delayed.) Going forward, the proposal would increase the required amount of cellulosic biofuels — fuels produced from wood, grasses or waste portions of plants — from 33 million gallons used in 2014 to 106 million by 2015 and 206 million gallons by 2016. The EPA proposed requiring refiners to blend 17.4 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2016, much of it from corn, but 3.4 billion gallons would come from advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol made from grasses and wood chips.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for a robust renewable fuels standard while campaigning in Iowa, host of the leadoff presidential caucuses next year. The market is saturated with regular corn ethanol, and production of cellulosic biofuel, made from nonfood parts of corn plants or other biomass like wood waste, is lower than what the mandate has required refiners to use. Terry Branstad — who has lobbied aggressively for maintaining a strong standard — says in a statement that he was disappointed, but noted that the EPA made slight increases from a previous proposal. Next-generation biofuels, made from agricultural waste such as wood chips and corncobs, have not taken off as quickly as Congress required and the administration expected. Groups like the Environmental Working Group have criticized the requirements for continuing to increase the use of corn ethanol, which the group argues actually increases lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposed standards also represent a blow to renewable fuel companies, which have pushed to keep high volumes of their product flowing into drivers’ gas tanks. They represent ambitious growth and are appropriate in light of Congress’ intent.” Ethanol supporters from Iowa warned the EPA plan would hurt the state.

EPA officials said the new requirements would drive growth at an “ambitious but responsible” rate. “We believe these proposed volume requirements will provide a strong incentive for continued investment and growth in biofuels,” said EPA’s Janet McCabe. Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said the proposal “gives in to Big Oil lies and turns its back on consumers, fuel choice and the environment.

But they were pleased the agency did not decrease the standards as much as it had proposed to in 2013, a move that brought on aggressive lobbying from farm groups and numerous EPA delays before Friday’s revised proposal. President Barack Obama had championed biofuels as a candidate and since his days representing Illinois in the Senate, and his administration resisted calls to lower biofuel volumes before that 2013 proposal.

David Vitter (R-La.) called them “unrealistic.” Nor did the EPA’s announcement please the corn industry. “Once again, the EPA has chosen to ignore the law by cutting the corn ethanol obligation 3.75 billion gallons from 2014 to 2016. Oil companies say they would prefer that the market determine how much ethanol is blended into their gas. “It is unfortunate that EPA chose to side with the obligated parties, who have deliberately refused to live up to their obligation to provide consumers with a choice of fossil fuels or lower-cost, higher-performing, homegrown renewable energy at the pump,” Buis said.

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