June 5, 2013

Scientist Says Federal Biofuel Production Mandate Flexible Enough to Meet Goals

Congress Should Allow EPA to Use Existing Authority to Modify Standards

WASHINGTON (June 5, 2013) – The federal mandate for production of biofuels is flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances while still supporting development of domestic, low-carbon, renewable fuels, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) expert told House lawmakers today.

Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements held a hearing today on the role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). 

Testifying before the subcommittee this morning, Dr. Jeremy Martin, senior scientist for UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program, said the RFS plays an important role in supporting the development of cleaner fuels by setting goals for biofuel production that in turn serve as a foundation for investments. 

“We are not moving forward as fast as we hoped to be in 2007, but the RFS is still pointing us in the right direction,” Dr. Martin said in his prepared testimony. “To keep moving forward we need to provide the regulatory stability that will protect the early investments in the cellulosic biofuels industry, and support further investment to bring the technology to larger scale.”

He noted that Congress provided the EPA the flexibility to adjust the RFS and encouraged the agency to use its existing authority and work with stakeholders to set ambitious but realistic goals for the next phase of the RFS, from 2016 to 2022. He said the EPA should develop mandates that are consistent with the constraints in agricultural markets and vehicle and fueling infrastructure while still moving forward on the oil savings and climate solutions the country needs.

“The RFS is a more flexible policy than many people appreciate, and Congress was smart to give the EPA the authority to adapt the second phase of the policy to circumstances, and move us forward in a pragmatic way,” said Dr. Martin. “Now the EPA must use that flexibility and provide more clarity on the path ahead.”

He said the smart approach is to limit the mandates for all food-based biofuels to 20 billion gallons in 2022, as laid out in the RFS implementation schedule. This represents a slower rate of growth than the country has seen over the last few years and will reduce pressure on food markets while slowing agricultural expansion. The growth beyond this limit should come from non-food based cellulosic biofuels.

The first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel facilities are starting up now in Florida (Ineos) and Mississippi (KiOR), and several more are under construction in Iowa and Kansas. These facilities mark an important milestone in the development of this important industry. There is great potential for the expansion of this industry. An assessment by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that the domestic resources to produce biomass are far in excess of what is required to meet the 16 billion gallon target for the RFS in 2022.

“Using wastes, agricultural residues like corn stalks, and environmentally friendly perennial grasses to make fuel can provide economic opportunities, rural development and good jobs not just in the corn belt, but all over country,” according to Dr. Martin. “The biomass resources are available, but to realize their potential, we also need a large scale industry to make them into useful fuel.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.