One of the hallmarks of our nation’s representative democracy is that its public institutions are charged with implementing policies that take the best interests of the American people into account. In most instances, they do a fine job of ensuring that their policies are meeting the needs of the people. But, there are times when public interests and public policy clash. Such has been the case with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and its proposed implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
When Congress passed the RFS in 2007, it specified in the legislation the annual amount of biofuels that were to be blended with gasoline. In proposing renewable fuel volumes (RVOs) for 2014 through 2016 the EPA, however, has chosen to ignore the law and is proposing to cut the biofuels requirements by 20 percent, or a total of 11.3 billion gallons, over the course of three years. In making the decision to waive the congressionally mandated RFS volumes, the agency has relied on the false “blend wall” narrative that has been perpetuated by the oil industry which claims that ethanol has reached its saturation point at 10 percent ethanol blend (E10), and that higher level ethanol blends, like E15 and E85, are not yet available enough to justify higher blending requirements.
The EPA’s proposal shows that instead of looking out for the best interests of the public it is, instead, looking out for the interests of the oil industry. So it should come as no surprise to the agency that the public has been frustrated with its RFS proposal. And public frustration was on full display last month at a hearing that the EPA held in Kansas City, Kansas on the proposal. Media reports on the hearing state that approximately 230 of the 262 people that testified at the hearing were opposed to the EPA’s proposal and were supportive of the RFS as adopted by Congress in 2007.
Conrad Clement of Conrad Clement Farms summed up the feeling of those in attendance during his testimony when he called the RFS “America’s most successful policy in 40 years,” but charged that the EPA was “tearing [the RFS] apart.” Clement urged the EPA to “endorse the original RFS as it was.” Geoff Cooper, Senior Vice President for the Renewable Fuels Association, said in his remarks at the hearing that the EPA was “overstepping the bounds of its legal authority by proposing to partially waive the RFS based on perceived capacity constraints,” and that “nothing in the statute allows EPA to set the RVOs based on the so-called ‘blend wall’ or alleged infrastructure limitations.”
In a blog post he wrote shortly after the Kansas City hearing, Cooper deconstructed the myth that the “blend wall” is an impenetrable and immovable barrier, by pointing out that recently released data by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that nearly half of our nation’s 50 states blew past the 10 percent ethanol level two years ago. “The data prove that augmenting E10 blending with even small amounts of higher-level blends like E85 and E15 can break through the so-called ‘blend wall,’ further diversifying a state’s fuel supply, and facilitating compliance with the congressionally enacted RFS volumes,” Cooper wrote.
I’ve said time and time again that there is nothing wrong with the RFS that cannot be fixed by what is right with the RFS. By any measure, the RFS has been a tremendous success: it has stimulated growth in biofuel production; revitalized rural economies; reduced greenhouse gas emissions; and lowered pump prices. The RFS has also reduced petroleum consumption and introduced competition into the fuel market, which is precisely why the oil industry opposes the program and is calling for its repeal.
I commend the EPA for going to the heart of the conversation and holding the hearing in the heartland of the nation, but the agency cannot simply discard the comments at the next convenient opportunity. The EPA must listen to the voice of the American people, who have an outspoken desire for a strong RFS, and not the oil industry.