Bush Administration Unveils Renewable Fuels Program

On April 10, EPA announced the establishment of the nation's first comprehensive Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program -- an action officials said would help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the RFS program requires that the equivalent of at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into motor vehicle fuel sold in the United States by 2012. The program is estimated to cut petroleum use by up to 3.9 billion gallons and cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 13.1 million metric tons by 2012 -- the equivalent of preventing the emissions of 2.3 million cars. The RFS is part of the effort toward meeting President Bush's goal reduce gasoline use by 20 percent within 10 years, officials said.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard offers the American people a hat trick -- it protects the environment, strengthens our energy security, and supports America's farmers," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "Today, we're taking an important first step toward meeting President Bush's "20 in 10" goal of jumping off the treadmill of foreign oil dependency."

The RFS program will promote the use of fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, which are largely produced from American crops. The RFS program establishes special incentives for producing and using fuels produced from cellulosic biomass, such as switchgrass and woodchips.

The RFS program requires major American refiners, blenders and importers to use a minimum volume of renewable fuel each year between 2007 and 2012. The minimum level or "standard," which is determined as a percentage of the total volume of fuel a company produces or imports, will increase every year. For 2007, 4.02 percent of all the fuel sold or dispensed to U.S. motorists will have to come from renewable sources, roughly 4.7 billion gallons.

The RFS program is based on a trading system that provides a flexible means for industry to comply with the annual standard by allowing renewable fuels to be used where they are most economical, officials said. Various renewable fuels can be used to meet the requirements of the program. While the RFS program establishes that a minimum amount of renewable fuel be used in the United States, more fuel can be used if producers and blenders choose to do so.

The "20 in 10" plan also calls for reforming and modernizing corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to increase the fuel economy of cars. This will reduce projected annual gasoline use by up to 8.5 billion gallons, a further 5 percent reduction that will bring the total reduction in projected annual gasoline use to 20 percent, officials said. President Bush has called on Congress to act on these proposals by the start of the summer driving season this year.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), former head and now ranking member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW), praised the program. "I am hopeful that EPA, as the sole regulatory agency over renewable fuels, considers the impacts of increased corn prices on affected industries like hog and cattle producers as well as consumers. As the current ranking member of the EPW Committee, which has principle jurisdiction over motor fuels policy including renewable fuels, I will continue to work with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who now heads the committee to provide committee oversight of the RFS program to ensure consistent, flexible, and efficient national policy."

Officials with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stated that making more efficient cars and trucks and filling them up with renewable fuels can reduce global warming, "but to maximize the benefits and minimize unintended consequences, we must ensure fuels become cleaner over time."

As the ink is drying on the new EPA regulation, federal legislators are considering new RFS legislation. As they do, UCS says they must ensure that any new policies consider the amount of global warming pollution each biofuel generates and protect the nation's land, water and air.

"Not all biofuels are created equal," said Steven Bantz, a senior engineer at UCS. "We need to make sure we invest in the cleaner, low-carbon biofuels to substantially cut global warming pollution. If we don't, we could wind up with more problems than we have now."

Producing and using biofuels often requires energy from fossil fuels, and the total global warming pollution generated can vary depending on the biomass and land used, and the production, delivery method, and ultimate use, Bantz said. Therefore, the federal government must evaluate biofuels on the basis of global warming emissions per unit of energy they emit over their full life cycle, from the field to the tailpipe.

"Likewise, expanding biomass production to meet U.S. energy needs could have unintended consequences for the air we breath, the water we drink, and the land we value," Bantz added. New policies should establish standards for producing and using bioenergy in ways that protect air, water and soil quality; value and conserve biodiversity; and limit the risks of invasive and genetically modified plants.

Charles T. Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, stated that new state biofuel mandates should be subject to the requirement that they be examined by EPA for their impact on either the fuel production or distribution system. "Congress did not anticipate the proliferation of new state ethanol and biodiesel mandates when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Neither Congress nor the administration should take a pass on considering the potentially serious impacts of politically popular, but economically and environmentally questionable, state ethanol or biodiesel mandates," Drevna said.

Additional information on the standard can be found at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/renewablefuels.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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