Energy Tomorrow Blog
Posted April 4, 2016
When Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) more than a decade ago, lawmakers hoped the federal fuels program would spur development of a domestic biofuels industry that would help reduce oil imports with millions and millions of gallons of home-grown ethanol – with a particular focus on increasing volumes of cellulosic biofuel made from corn stover, wood chips, miscanthus or biogas. By 2022, it was expected that 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel would be produced, but a couple of other things happened instead.
First, the U.S. energy revolution happened. Our crude oil imports fell mostly because of surging domestic oil production, not the RFS. Through safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, American output grew from less than 6 million barrels per day to more than 9 million barrels per day – the growth in domestic production more than accounting for the reduction in net imports.
Posted March 25, 2016
To understand why the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) must be repealed or significantly reformed, start at the “blend wall.”
The ethanol blend wall is where – because of the RFS’ mandates – more ethanol must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply than can be absorbed as E10 gasoline – gasoline containing up to 10 percent ethanol, which is standard across the country. Put another way, when ethanol makes up more than 10 percent of the total U.S. fuel mix, you’ve breached the blend wall.
At that point refiners have few options. They can produce E15 and E85, fuels containing higher volumes of ethanol, or they can comply with the RFS by reducing the amount of fuel supplied to the domestic market. Neither is a good choice for American consumers.
Posted March 3, 2016
In testimony before the committee, Lucian Pugliaresi, president of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc. (EPRINC), shared EPRINC’s conclusion that continuing to administer the RFS as written “would increase gasoline prices from approximately 30 cents to 50 cents a gallon” and cautioned Congress to address “the risk to economic recovery” this poses.
Posted February 23, 2016
When Congress and the president acted late last year to end the decades-old ban on domestic crude oil exports, Washington showed it could generate the consensus to update energy policy so it matches America’s new energy reality, a reality of abundance created by surging domestic oil production. The same kind of change is needed on the broken Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
We saw how the crude oil exports ban buckled under the weight of economic research and reason, both of which argued that allowing U.S. oil to reach global markets would be good for America and American consumers. In the case of the RFS, there’s a compelling opportunity to protect U.S. consumers from potential harm wrought by a bad public policy.
Step No. 1 is a scheduled hearing this week on the RFS by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Witnesses include EPA and U.S. Energy Information Administration officials. Frank Macchiarola, API group director of downstream and industry operations, discussed the stakes in the RFS debate during a conference call with reporters. The main point: The RFS is mismatched for the new era of U.S. energy abundance.
Posted January 27, 2016
If the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) were a candidate in this election year, its track record would invite landslide defeat.
Editorial boards of major newspapers are now echoing what a diverse coalition of restaurant associations, grocers, producers of poultry, pork and beef, environmental non-profits and anti-hunger groups have been saying for years.
Posted December 28, 2015
The White House has honey bees – an estimated 70,000 of them that call a hive near the South Lawn home. Yet, nationwide bees are struggling. Researchers have warned of declining numbers of bees and other “pollinators” – to the point that last year the White House set up a task force to develop a bee strategy to help reverse the trend. From the White House blog:
Increasing the quantity and quality of habitat for pollinators is a major part of this effort—with actions ranging from the construction of pollinator gardens at Federal buildings to the restoration of millions of acres of Federally managed lands and similar actions on private lands. To support these habitat-focused efforts, USDA and the Department of Interior are today issuing a set of Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands, providing practical guidance for planners and managers with land stewardship responsibilities.
We acknowledged the bee situation in a post nearly a year ago, noting that the large-scale conversion of grasslands to grow crops for a number of uses was crowding out bees, butterflies and others – including increasing acreage being devoted to ethanol production. Now a new, comprehensive study by University of Vermont researchers underscores the point – that U.S. wild bees are disappearing in many of the country’s most important farmlands and that increased demand for corn to use in biofuel production is a significant part of the problem.
Posted November 30, 2015
In finalizing ethanol volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the EPA is basically testing the limits of the ethanol “blend wall” and the potential impacts of breaching it. Unfortunately, the guinea pigs in the experiment are U.S. consumers – their wallets, their vehicles.
That’s what we draw from EPA’s requirements for levels of corn ethanol and other renewable fuels that must be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. EPA officially set requirements for 2014 (two years late), 2015 (a year late) and 2016. Requirements for 2016 are the most significant – 18.11 billion gallons, which is lower than what Congress originally required when it created the RFS, but higher than what EPA proposed in May (17.4 billion gallons).
Posted November 13, 2015
Ethanol producers want Secretary of State John Kerry to trumpet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) at the big Paris climate conference later this month. Big Ethanol says the U.S. should highlight the RFS in Paris, not hide it – referring to the fact the RFS is missing from the Obama administration’s “intended nationally determined contribution” document that outlines what the U.S. would do under the next international climate agreement.
Maybe the reason for the omission is the number of studies showing that climate and environment are worse off because of the RFS.
Posted October 28, 2015
Next month EPA is scheduled to finalize 2014, 2015 and 2016 ethanol-use requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – and where EPA sets the volume standards could have big impacts on consumers and our economy.
We’ve been talking about flaws in the RFS for some time, and the chorus of voices has grown because requiring increasing volumes of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply could affect vehicle owners, consumers paying for fuel and food, the environment and the global food supply.
Posted October 16, 2015
It’s been a tough week for corn ethanol producers and supporters of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
First, a new University of Tennessee report finds that the RFS and its ethanol mandates fall short on a number of environmental fronts, and that without mandated ethanol use the corn ethanol industry couldn’t survive commercially. The report:
Looking back over the last 10 years, the RFS and its resulting promotion of corn ethanol as a leading oxygenate supplement to conventional transportation fuels did not meet intended environmental goals. Corn ethanol’s environmental record has failed to meet expectations across a number of metrics that include air pollutants, water contamination, and soil erosion. Corn ethanol has resulted in a number of less favorable environmental outcomes when compared to a scenario in which the traditional transportation fuel market had been left unchanged.