By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the EPA’s methodology used in determining 2014-16 total Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on July 28, it represented a huge victory for renewable fuels proponents and farmers.
The EPA had been accused of undermining the Congressional mandate for the amount of renewable fuels to be produced and mixed in the nation’s fuel supply, in charges led by lawyers for renewable fuel groups, collectively known as Americans for Clean Energy. EPA had cited “inadequate domestic supply” as the impetus behind its decision to lower the amount of required renewable fuel blending, but the court, led by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, disagreed with EPA’s methodology and restored statutory RVO numbers for the 2014-16 RFS.
“Today’s court decision is a win for farmers, the biofuels industry and consumers,” the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA) stated. “This ruling affi rms our view that the EPA did not follow the law when it reduced the 2014-16 renewable fuel volumes below levels intended by Congress. “The court held that EPA was wrong to interpret the phrase ‘inadequate domestic supply’ to mean ‘inadequate domestic supply and demand.’ We agree with the Court that effectively adding words to the law through this interpretation simply exceeds EPA’s authority.”
EPA’s fl awed methodology has shorted the nation’s fuel supply by an estimated 800 million bushels of potential corn grind during 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to one study, said Justin Durdan, Illinois Corn Growers Assoc. (ICGA) president and a farmer from Utica. “The court’s decision falls directly in line with the comments we’ve been making to the EPA for years. ICGA members have written hundreds of comments to the EPA over time, pointing out EPA’s fl awed methodology in establishing the yearly RVO numbers under the RFS,” he said.
“To see the court back us up is quite gratifying. Corn farmers in Illinois should see this as a win and an affi rmation of their position on the issue as it has been demonstrated time and time again.” D6 renewable identifi cation numbers spiked 6 cents after the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision to set side EPA’s 2014-16 RVO numbers was announced. The court ruling, along with industry reaction, was no doubt fresh in the minds of ethanol and biofuel proponents who gathered in Washington on August 1 to provide feedback to the EPA on its most recent proposals for next year’s RVOs.
The EPA hearing included input from the Renewable Fuels Assoc. (RFA), National Biodiesel Board, National Renderers Assoc. and others, including farmer-members of the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Growers Assoc. “We believe the RVOs set by the EPA should spur the industry to grow rather than maintain the status quo,” said Tom Griffi ths, a corn producer from Kendallville, Ind., who testifi ed in front of the EPA.
While Griffi ths’ was one of many voices imploring agency to increase RVO requirements above statutory levels, others sought increases in targets for specific types of renewable fuel within the RFS spectrum. The RFA, for example, asked EPA to increase its proposed cellulosic ethanol requirement for 2018, to take advantage of new technologies at existing ethanol plants. At issue is EPA’s proposal to reduce the proposed cellulosic ethanol production target to 238 million gallons next year.
“We understand the (EPA’s) dilemma in establishing an appropriate RVO for cellulosic ethanol, but we truly believe the agency has erred on the side of pessimism with regard to the potential for signifi cant growth in cellulosic ethanol commercialization,” RFD President Bob Dinneen said. “We know that many plants are in the process of adding bolt-on fi ber conversion technology to their existing facilities that could dramatically increase cellulosic ethanol production next year, and we intend to provide you with updated projections during the comment period.” Cellulosic ethanol is produced from ligno cellulose, the stringy structural fi ber found in plants, grasses, wood or algae, rather than from fruit or seeds.
It is commonly produced from corn stalks and stover or switchgrass. The EPA also heard that the rendering industry says it is ready to supply increased volumes of feedstock for biodiesel production if the EPA was to increase RFS volumes in 2018 and 2019. This is according to Doug Smith of Baker Commodities, a biodiesel producer and leading provider of rendering and grease removal services, who testified on behalf of the California Biodiesel Alliance and National Renderers Assoc. “A stronger RFS will grow jobs, clean our air by reducing emissions and promote domestic energy production,” said Smith, adding that 3,200 new jobs are created for every additional 100 million gallons of biodiesel production.
He suggested the EPA had greatly underestimated the potential of the biodiesel industry to increase production. He urged the agency to set the RFS for advanced biofuels in 2018 at a minimum of 5.25 billion gallons, rather than the 4.24 billion it has proposed.
EPA’s current 2018 RFS proposal calls for refiners to blend 15 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuels, such as corn ethanol, in 2018, which adheres to the statutory requirement but does not increase production levels over established Congressional recommendations.
In Illinois, the ethanol industry provides $5.29 billion in total economic impact, 4,000-plus full-time jobs, $37 million in state or local revenue and $39 million in federal revenue, according to the Illinois RFA.