In line with its Nov. 30 deadline to finalize renewable volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA on Monday approved higher renewable fuel levels than previously projected in June.
The RFS is a policy that mandates how much renewable fuel is to be blended into the fuel supply for the coming years. The finalized proposal, which was developed with public input, establishes blending levels of 16.28 billion gallons for 2014, 16.93 billion gallons for 2015, and 18.11 billion gallons for 2016.
Those levels are higher than those proposed in June; at that time, EPA suggested blending of 16.30 billion gallons of total renewable fuels for 2015 and 17.40 billion gallons for 2016.
"The biofuel industry is an incredible American success story, and the RFS program has been an important driver of that success – cutting carbon pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and sparking rural economic development," said Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.
"With today's final rule, and as Congress intended, EPA is establishing volumes that go beyond historic levels and grow the amount of biofuel in the market over time. Our standards provide for ambitious, achievable growth."
EPA also was able to meet its Nov. 30 deadline for release of the final RVOs, ending a long-running precedent of missed deadlines. That pattern drew heavy criticism from renewables groups, which suggested the sluggishness was stifling investment in the industry.
Now with final standards in place for the year ahead, biofuel producers and blenders are in a "better position to plan and invest," McCabe said on a conference call Monday afternoon.
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Though some farm and renewables groups were pleased with the met deadline, there was still apprehension that the finalized volumes – while higher than those proposed in June – remain below standards set by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
"While we are pleased to see the EPA take a step forward and revise its original proposal, the fact remains that any reduction in the statutory amount will have a negative impact on our economy, our energy security, and the environment," commented Maryland farmer Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson offered a similar sentiment: "The administration's decision to issue RFS volume obligations below their statutory requirements exacerbates the serious damage already done to the renewable fuels industry and America's family farmers," he said. "Clearly the administration has accepted Big Oil's talking points and paved the way for a weaker RFS."
Those standards expected total renewable fuel blending of 18.15 billion gallons in 2014, 20.5 billion gallons in 2015 and 22.25 billion gallons in 2016.
While Monday's finalized standards don't meet those levels, EPA said the final 2016 standard for advanced biofuel is nearly 1 billion gallons, or 35% higher than the actual 2014 volumes. Biodiesel standards grow steadily over the next several years, increasing every year to reach 2 billion gallons by 2017.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack cited that continued growth in his statement supporting the final volumes. "Since , we have more than doubled renewable energy production, and today we import less than half our oil," he said. "We are saving Americans money at the pump with improved and expanded ethanol and biodiesel production.
"The rule released today is a positive step forward providing for continued growth in all parts of the Renewable Fuel Standard."
Opponents of the RFS, meanwhile, offered a not-so-rosy outlook. National Chicken Council President Mike Brown estimated that since the RFS was enacted, chicken producers alone have incurred more than $50 billion in higher actual feed costs due to the ethanol mandates
"EPA's action will cost consumers at the pump and on the plate by effectively raising fuel and food prices," he said. " By increasing the mandated volume of ethanol beyond the blend wall for next year, and retroactively increasing the mandates for 2014 and 2015, more corn from feed and food will be diverted into fuel production, resulting in increased costs for poultry and livestock producers."