UPDATE 1-EPA unveils ‘ambitious yet responsible’ biofuel targets

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Despite Thunderous Opposition, EPA INCREASES The Ethanol Mandate.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a much-delayed proposal governing the amount of biofuel that must be blended into conventional vehicle fuel Friday, 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 E.P.A. administrator, wrote in a blog post. “These proposed volumes are achievable in the timeframes under consideration. 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 — which seemed to please few — 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 EPA and ethanol producers celebrated the announcement, but they seem to be the only ones as most other interest groups oppose the mandate in its current form. The decision, more than a year overdue, is a retreat from aggressive goals set by Congress almost a decade ago to promote American-grown alternatives to fossil fuels obtained from hostile nations.

Eco-groups argue biofuels, especially corn ethanol, are harming the environment, while hunger groups say the mandate raises food prices. “We calculate that the corn ethanol mandate has been worse for the climate than projected emissions from the controversial Keystone XL pipeline,” wrote Emily Cassidy, a researcher with the Environmental Working Group. “What makes matters worse is that the EPA just mandated that more corn ethanol must go into American gas tanks.” The federal Renewable Fuel Standard was first enacted during the Bush administration, and was subsequently expanded to push more ethanol production on fuel markets. The market is already saturated with regular corn ethanol, and production of cellulosic, or so-called advanced, 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. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a prepared statement. “All of these actions by E.P.A. give a clear case for a mismanaged program in need of rigorous oversight.” In a bid to help farmers, the administration of President Barack Obama also pledged Friday $100 million in matching grants to promote the addition of ethanol blending pumps at service stations.

Starting in 2013, fuel refiners warned they were hitting the limits to what they could safely blend into gas supplies without damaging car engines — the so-called “blend wall.” Currently, most car engines can only handle a 10 percent ethanol blend before being exposed to serious engine problems. The ethanol mandate announcement cut the value of certificates known as Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, issued by the EPA to track compliance. EPA has the legal authority to adjust those totals, and set the overall levels for renewable fuels at 16.3 billion gallons and 17.4 billion gallons respectively. It will return to the program’s timeline for issuing annual rules after the current proposal is finalized, the agency said. “If the goal of the Administration was to set the stage for protracted and complex litigation over the rule when finalized later this year, today’s proposal is a giant step toward that objective,” said Stephen Brown, a Washington representative for refiner Tesoro Corp. “One has to wonder whether the proposed 2016 volumes are anything more than an invitation by EPA to Congress to intervene via reform legislation.” The U.S. The agency has long championed these so-called blender pumps, and the announcement on the same day as the renewable fuel proposal lets the Obama administration to demonstrate that it still supports the fuel. “They are committed to the industry,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said of the EPA. “They also have to work in the real world, relative to how much gas is being consumed, and that is the result of the higher CAFÉ standards that are having to be increased.”

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