By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Senior Editor, Farm World
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reactions from farm groups and ethanol supporters have been mixed to the U.S. EPA’s announcement last week to keep the volume obligations for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) similar to recent years.
The 2018 proposal – the first from the Trump administration – calls for 19.24 billion gallons of total renewable fuel, including 238 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, 2.1 billion gallons of bio massbased
diesel and 4.24 billion gallons of advanced biofuel. The requirement for total renewable fuel drops slightly from this year’s total of 19.28 billion gallons.
The cellulosic biofuel level was lowered from 311 million gallons in 2017, and the advanced biofuel requirement drops from this year’s estimate of 4.28 billion gallons. The 2.1 billion-gallon biomassbased diesel requirement for 2018 was set last year. For 2019, the EPA expects biomass-based diesel to be maintained at 2.1 billion gallons.
The EPA plan maintains the corn-based ethanol volume at 15 billion gallons, but lowers obligations for advanced biofuels, including biodiesel, and drops nearly 7 billion gallons short of the levels prescribed by Congress in the RFS statute.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released this proposal during President Trump’s self-described Energy Week. The President’s theme for the week is “American Energy Dominance,” and the administration is getting some support from right-wing groups for this effort.
Americans for Energy Security and Innovation (AESI) co-chairs Jim Talent and Rick Santorum, both former Republican senators, urged continued progress on homegrown biofuels.
“President Trump has been a vocal advocate for homegrown biofuels, and the proposed targets for conventional biofuels reflect that commitment,” they wrote in a joint statement.
“(T)he EPA could do more to protect U.S. energy security by ensuring that our drive for innovation in cellulosic fuels promotes continued investment in rural communities. Meeting the goals for energy security outlined by Congress in the (RFS) will support American strength, a robust manufacturing sector and renewed job creation across the heartland.”
By law, EPA is required to finalize the upcoming year’s mandates for conventional ethanol and most advanced biofuels by Nov. 30 of the previous year. A public comment period is open following the release of the proposed volume obligations.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is pleased the EPA’s plan complies with the RFS. “Nebraska producers are leaders in ethanol production and biofuel investment,” she said. “Our producers need more certainty, given the status of our current farm economy. Moving forward, I’m optimistic that the voices of all stakeholders can be heard during the public comment period.”
Biofuels supporters wary
POET, of Sioux Falls, S.D., is among with world’s largest ethanol producers. CEO Jeff Broin said the EPA’s proposal recognizes the success of the RFS, and that biofuels lower gas prices, enhance engine performance and improve air quality.
“We have initial concerns that the overall reduction in biofuels gallons will cool advances in cellulosic ethanol technologies,” Broin said. “For the biofuels industry to grow, we need to see robust cellulosic ethanol production using multiple feedstocks from across the country, and the annual EPA volumes must keep our industry on that path.”
Renewable Fuels Assoc. President and CEO Bob Dinneen said U.S. consumers only see the benefits of the RFS when EPA implements the policy as intended by Congress. He said consumers benefit from the policy with greater choice at the pump, breathing cleaner air and seeing a boost to local economies.
“By maintaining the 15 billion-gallon level for corn ethanol, the rule will also help to drive more investment in infrastructure to accommodate higher ethanol blends,” he said. “The RFS is a vital policy and we encourage EPA to finalize this rule as quickly as possible and certainly in time to meet the statutory deadline of November 30.”
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said this proposal is the first real test of the Trump administration’s pledged support for renewable fuels. “Information from the Department of Energy, as well as from the numerous retailers across the country selling higher biofuel blends, confirm what we’ve known for years – there is no ‘blend wall,’” she said.
“More and more of America’s drivers are choosing higher biofuel blends, like E15, and fulfilling the promise of the RFS.”
Farm groups mixed on plan
Texas farmer Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA), said its members are pleased the EPA will keep the RFS on track for conventional ethanol production.
He added the proposal is good for farmers who are facing tough economic times and for consumers who want affordable fuel choices that give them a cleaner environment.
“EPA needs to hear from all of us,” Spurlock said. “If you want cleaner air, a stronger farm economy and vibrant rural communities and greater energy independence, stand up for the (RFS).”
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the EPA’s proposal falls short of preserving the integrity of the RFS – which is to grow the industry. “For the past year, President Trump and his administration have assured family farmers and rural residents that this administration plans to support biofuels and uphold the intent of Congress as it relates to the RFS,” he said.
“But today’s disappointing proposal, by lowering volume obligations for the next generation of biofuels, seems to back off these assurances.”
American Soybean Assoc. (ASA) President and Illinois farmer Ron Moore signaled frustration with the proposal. “The lack of growth in the biomassbased diesel volumes and the reduction in advanced biofuels volumes is certainly disappointing and a missed opportunity by the administration to demonstrate their support for the U.S. biodiesel and soybean industries,” he said.