On Monday, Aug. 8, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) celebrated its 11th anniversary. Not on a first name basis with acronyms? It’s the law that gave us the original renewable fuel standard, or RFS1, for up to 7.5 billion gallons of biofuel by 2012.
While RFS1’s requirement may seem small—considering the conventional biofuel industry alone produced 14.8 billion gallons in 2015—it was a momentous step towards reducing U.S. dependence on petroleum.
EPAct’s passage would not have been possible were it not for the cooperation between the ethanol, agriculture and oil sectors. The oil industry needed an off ramp from the use of MTBE, which was polluting groundwater across the country, and the ethanol industry needed a growth path if farmers were ever to realize the promise of value-added markets.
Cooperation and compromise helped usher RFS1 into law, with support from the American Petroleum Institute, as well as environmental groups. “We have embarked on a new era together—an era of compromise,” then-American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney told RFA’s National Ethanol Conference in February 2002. “We think this [the RFS] is a win for the consumers and a win for the farmers. . . It’s a win for the environment and it’s also a win for national security,” he added.
Ultimately, EPAct—with RFS—was signed into law by President George W. Bush—that’s right, an oilman from Texas.
“This bill launches an energy strategy for the 21st century, and I’ve really been looking forward to signing it,“ Bush said at the bill signing, held at a DOE lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I used to like to kid, but I really wasn’t kidding when I said, someday a president is going to pick up the crop report and they’re going to say we’re growing a lot of corn or soybeans and the first thing that’s going to pop in the president’s mind is, we’re less dependent on foreign sources of energy. It makes sense to promote ethanol and biodiesel.”
Every stakeholder cheered the passage of this groundbreaking legislation, and it was an immediate success. MTBE disappeared as a gasoline additive, investments in U.S. biofuel production soared, farmers saw increased demand for their commodities allowing Congress to dramatically cut farm program costs, consumers saw pump prices fall as ethanol displaced more expensive oil, and carbon emissions from the transportation sector fell precipitously.
Those benefits continue today, as the success of RFS1 morphed into the current 36 billion gallon RFS (or RFS2) that was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Since RFS1 was implemented, consumers have seen numerous benefits, including lower prices at the pump, cleaner air, a reduction in oil imports and a boost to local economies.
However, now that fossil fuels are losing market share because of the RFS—which was the point, to have fuel diversity and consumer choice at the pump —petroleum interests are pushing back against its progress and forgetting that they were the ones that helped support it in its nascent stage of development. Maybe it’s time that the biofuels community and the public remind them.