Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally released a proposal to meet calendar year 2021 biofuels blending requirements to comply with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This initial proposal, which is subject to a comment period, comes more than a year after EPA missed its November 30, 2020, legal deadline for releasing 2021 blending requirements. The proposal for 2022 biofuels volumes, unsurprisingly, is now also overdue.
The RFS requires oil refineries to annually blend increasing amounts of biofuels with U.S gasoline and diesel. The mandate was first enacted in 2005 and greatly expanded in the 2007 energy bill. While Congress set legislative targets, EPA has been forced to repeatedly ratchet down biofuels mandates in recent years due to low production levels of non-food-based cellulosic biofuels in particular. Sold as a means to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the RFS has instead been primarily filled with first-generation biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel. These biofuels require large amounts of land and inputs for feedstock production, leading to the loss of carbon-rich wetlands and grasslands, to row crop production, resulting in a net increase in GHG emissions.
According to independent experts, the RFS has done more harm than good for not only the climate, but also water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and other resource concerns. It has also led to increased consumer costs, higher fuel and feed prices, and more.
Adding salt to the wound, on Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced more spending on biofuels infrastructure projects through the Commodity Credit Corporation, plus ethanol subsidies in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) even though the program wasn’t intended to subsidize corn ethanol. And today, USDA announced $700 million in COVID-19 relief for biofuels producers, plus another $100 million in biofuels infrastructure subsidies. This is not the first time USDA has attempted to satisfy the biofuels lobby.
In response to today’s announcements, TCS president Steve Ellis issued the following press statement:
Despite the delay in today’s announcement, not much has changed with the RFS. The federal mandate has failed to benefit the climate while increasing taxpayer liabilities and consumer costs. Independent experts long ago questioned whether the mandate would ever deliver climate and environmental benefits. The evidence is clear – the RFS has failed to achieve its goals. Congress should learn from these mistakes. Instead of creating new aviation biofuels subsidies, expanding dead-end biofuels infrastructure supports, and extending wasteful, market distorting tax credits for biodiesel, special interest handouts to the bioenergy industry should be eliminated once and for all.