Energy Tomorrow Blog
Posted June 26, 2015
API Downstream Group Director Bob Greco traveled this week to EPA’s field hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in Kansas City, to detail concerns over the flawed program, with its market-distorting mandates for ever-increasing use of ethanol in the national fuel supply. His remarks, as prepared for delivery:
The Ethanol Blend Wall
Our members’ primary RFS concern is the ethanol blend wall. Serious vehicle and retail infrastructure compatibility issues exist with gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol. We are encouraged that EPA has proposed to address this reality.
Gasoline demand increases projected in 2007 did not materialize, and Congress granted EPA the authority to balance its aspirational goals with reality. API supports EPA’s use of its explicit RFS waiver authorities in 2014, ‘15, ‘16, and beyond to avoid negative impacts on America’s fuel supply and to prevent harm to American consumers.
Posted June 2, 2015
With EPA last week proposing ethanol-use requirements for 2014, 2015 and 2016 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the ethanol industry no doubt will keep lobbying to foist increasing amounts of higher-ethanol blend fuels like E15 and E85 on the motoring public. This, despite studies that have shown E15 can harm engines and fuel systems in vehicles that weren’t designed to use it – potentially voiding manufacturers’ warranties – and historically small consumer demand for E85.
A subset of the argument for increased use of higher-ethanol blend fuels is the dismissing of concern that E15 also could damage existing service station infrastructure, including storage tanks, fuel lines and dispensers. Though service station owners and operators indicate otherwise, ethanol supporters say that a new National Renewable Energy Laborary (NREL) report – commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a big ethanol advocate – found that E15 is compatible with existing equipment. It’s simply not true, and the report has some challenges. Let’s look at a few.
Posted February 5, 2015
Two of the Environmental Protection Agency’s seven statements of purpose reference “best available scientific information” and “accurate information.” These also happen to be two things that many in Washington, D.C., feel that EPA is setting aside in the pursuit of political goals. Yesterday the agency released comments on the Keystone XL pipeline that gave plenty of credence to its critics.
It is somewhat of a shame, because EPA’s comments did make many good points. It acknowledged the comprehensiveness of the State Departments review of the project, the usefulness of mitigation measures the project will take to reduce environmental impact and the reduction of risks associated with spills and leaks from the pipeline. And then we begin to drift from accurate information into political calculation.
Posted January 16, 2015
Pacific Standard magazine (PS) has an interesting longread on honeybees in its January issue. While this is not our area of expertise and we can’t judge the veracity of the entire article, there was one part that we had, unfortunately, seen before:
Over a million acres of grassland were converted to crops in five Midwestern states from 2006 to 2011, according to a study by South Dakota State University. … Across the region more than 99 percent of what was originally prairie has been converted, mostly to corn and soy for animal feed, ethanol, and sweetener … Now the entire Midwest, several beekeepers told me, has become a “corn desert.” This has wrought devastation on most anything that used to live in the fields. Monarch butterflies no longer have milkweed for laying eggs. Birds no longer have insects to eat or prairie to shelter in. Native bees are disappearing.
The years 2006 to 2011 are not a coincidence, as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains:
After the federal Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law in 2007, many corn growers decided to plant corn year after year to profit from higher prices, rather than switching between corn and soybeans, for example. This transition has greatly harmed air and water quality.
And apparently bees. But not to worry, the federal government is on the case.
Posted June 18, 2014
Almost half of 2014 is behind us, and yet EPA still hasn’t finalized the ethanol requirements for this year. This is not a recipe for predictability and reliability in the gasoline markets, and the administration’s inability to meet the congressionally-mandated deadline of November 30th is a clear example of how unworkable the RFS is.
Posted December 20, 2013
In a recent letter to the Obama administration, some members of Congress pushed officials to increase EPA’s proposed 2014 mandate for biodiesel, arguing that EPA’s plan to keep the mandate at its 2013 level could reduce production by approximately 25 percent. With all due respect, the mandate exists as a floor, not as a ceiling, and the biodiesel industry is welcome to exceed it.
And guess what: The biodiesel industry has been doing just that for the past three years – as the lawmakers’ letter points out. According to EPA, since 2011 the volumes of biomass-based diesel fuels produced have been well above EPA’s mandated requirements.
Posted November 22, 2013
Three new papers released by Iowa State University’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) try to portray E85 fuel as both a solution to the ethanol “blend wall” created by the Renewable Fuel Standard’s (RFS) mandates and as a reason to set ethanol volume mandates beyond what can safely be consumed as conventional E10 gasoline. Unfortunately, the papers contain deficiencies, omit key facts, rely too much on hoped-for outcomes and confuse the role of consumers and market signals.
Posted November 8, 2013
The U.S. Department of Energy’s flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) fleet apparently isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A recent inspector general’s report found that DOE has been fueling its FFVs with regular gasoline instead of E85, eliminating many supposed environmental or cost benefits of having a fleet of cars that can use fuel containing up to 83 percent ethanol.
Two of DOE’s sites leased 854 FFVs at an additional cost of $700,000 over a comparable conventional fleet. In 2011, the managers of the cars were granted waivers for more than 75 percent of the vehicles so they could be filled with conventional fuel, “a practice that provided little or no environmental or economic benefit,” the IG said.
Here’s the significance in the ongoing debate over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its mandates for ever-increasing ethanol use: Although the ethanol lobby keeps touting the benefits of FFVs and E85, the situation with DOE’s FFV fleet illustrates the fact that even the government, which was mandated to use the product, didn’t want to use it. This is consistent with the experience of the general public, which hasn’t accepted the use of E85 in their FFVs.
Posted November 6, 2013
They’re at it again. The ethanol lobby’s biggest voice, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), issued a press release last week trying to defend E15, the controversial fuel blend containing up to 15 percent ethanol. Only in this case, RFA was defending against an imaginary argument.
RFA claims the development of new vehicle models that can withstand E15 – which research has shown could damage enginesand fuel systems in models that weren’t designed to use it – “shines a bright light on Big Oil’s long-sustained, detrimental resistance to infrastructure build out.”
It’s an imaginary argument because no one opposed the increasing availability of E15-compatible cars. The problem with E15 is the 95 percent of the vehicle fleet that isn’t built to handle E15 and the retroactive nature of the E15 partial waiver.
Posted October 24, 2013