Dear Administrator McCarthy,
We applaud the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for recognizing that improvements are needed to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) pathway petition process. We agree that the process should be streamlined to “…enable more timely and efficient decision-making.”1 However, we see absolutely no reason to suspend review of certain pending pathway petitions while improvements to the process are being made.
In a recent Program Announcement2, EPA suggested it will take approximately six months to implement improvements to the pathway petition process. During the six-month period, the Agency says it will continue to review only those pending petitions that are deemed as “high priority.” The announcement suggests that pending petitions for cellulosic biofuels, “drop-in” fuels, and renewable fuels from “non-food feedstocks” will take precedence over other pending petitions. The implication of EPA’s announcement is that pending petitions for new pathways involving approved feedstocks and common process technologies will be set aside for at least six months while improvements to the process are implemented. We ask that EPA clarify its intent with regard to petitions involving previously approved feedstocks and well-known process technologies, and we request that the Agency continue its review of such petitions.
Specifically, EPA should continue its review of pending petitions involving ethanol derived from corn starch and grain sorghum via the standard dry mill process. Given EPA’s familiarity with these feedstocks and process technologies, and in light of the uncomplicated nature of the petitions, there is no reason why a decision on these petitions cannot be rendered quickly before EPA undertakes improvements to the petition process.
It is our understanding that all of the pending corn starch ethanol petitions (and some of the pending grain sorghum petitions) were submitted by producers who are simply seeking to expand production beyond their RFS2 grandfathered baseline capacity. These producers are
1 EPA Program Announcement: Improving the Petition Process for New Renewable Fuel Pathways, EPA- 420-F-14-011 (March 2014). Available at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/documents/420f14011.pdf
not seeking approval to use novel feedstocks or new process technologies. Rather, they are simply demonstrating that ethanol volumes produced as a result of capacity expansions would meet the statutory 20% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirement for D6 RIN generation. Because these petitions involve previously approved feedstocks and process technologies that are well understood, there is no need for EPA to conduct resource-intensive economic analysis (i.e., agriculture sector/land use modeling).
In fact, there is no need for the Agency to conduct process modeling (i.e., GREET analysis) for these petitions either, as EPA has already established a simple standard by which corn starch ethanol petitions may be judged. In approving the corn starch ethanol petition submitted by Absolute Energy, EPA effectively created a definitive fuel production emissions threshold.3 That is, EPA’s determination on the Absolute petition showed that if a corn ethanol plant’s emissions related to natural gas and electricity consumption are equal to or less than 29.4 kg CO2- eq./mmBTU, then the resultant ethanol meets the 20% GHG reduction requirement. Thus, producers can easily demonstrate to EPA that their facility’s GHG emissions are below the threshold by submitting natural gas and electricity records and using EPA’s emissions factors.
Indeed, following approval of the Absolute Energy petition, EPA approved seven more corn starch ethanol petitions (from producers seeking to expand capacity) relatively quickly. Several of these petitions referenced the fuel production emissions threshold established in the Absolute Energy determination and demonstrated that their facility emissions were at or below that threshold level. We believe all of the pending corn starch ethanol pathway petitions (and some of the pending grain sorghum petitions) could be processed quickly and easily using the same standard. EPA can swiftly determine whether the natural gas and electricity use (and thus the fuel production emissions) specified in pending corn starch ethanol petitions is above or below the threshold established by the Absolute petition.
The producers who have submitted pending corn starch and grain sorghum petitions have already invested significant capital to undertake capacity expansions. Several of these expansion projects are already well under way. Suspending these petitions for a minimum of six months will put that capital at risk and unnecessarily delay these projects. Moreover, failure to process these petitions on a timely basis undermines the objectives of the RFS2 by constraining the ability of these producers to contribute larger volumes of RIN-generating renewable fuel.
Further, we feel compelled to remind EPA that its workload related to corn starch ethanol pathway petitions could be totally alleviated if the Agency simply updated its original corn starch
3 Table 5 of the EPA determination (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/documents/absolute- energy-determination-2-6-13.pdf) on the Absolute Energy petition shows that the only difference between the “Absolute Energy Process” and the model dry mill previously analyzed by EPA is in regard to “fuel production” emissions. Based on site-specific natural gas and electricity data provided by Absolute, EPA determined that fuel production emissions for the plant were 28 kg CO2-eq./mmBTU. When combined with values for other lifecycle phases from EPA’s existing analysis, the Agency determined ethanol from the Absolute process results in a 22% GHG reduction relative to baseline petroleum. From this, we can determine that fuel production emissions of 29.4 kg CO2-eq./mmBTU would result in a 20.0% reduction relative to the baseline.
ethanol lifecycle GHG analysis. A revised analysis based on current data and improved models would show that all corn starch ethanol produced today is reducing GHG emissions by at least 20% relative to petroleum—even with hypothetical land use change emissions.4 As such, producers seeking to expand corn starch ethanol capacity would not need to submit a petition to generate RINs on expanded production volumes. Accordingly, EPA could focus on petitions requesting pathways for new and novel feedstocks and processes.
In closing, we again urge EPA to expeditiously complete its review of pending pathway petitions for corn starch ethanol (and petitions for grain sorghum ethanol that do not require additional modeling) before undertaking changes to the petition process. If you have questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact Geoff Cooper at 636.594.2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob Dinneen President & CEO
4 See Wang, M.; Han, J.; Dunn, J. B.; Cai, H.; Elgowainy, A. Well-to-wheels energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol from corn, sugarcane and cellulosic biomass for US use. Environ. Res. Lett. 2012, 7, 1−13, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045905.