Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) regulations that establish the amount of biofuels that must be blended into the United States’ transportation fuel supply in 2019 (and 2020, for biomass-based diesel fuels).
The annual volumes are known as Renewable Volume Obligations, or RVOs, and must be finalized by Nov. 30 of each year.
“As if any more proof were needed, EPA’s proposed volume rule confirms that the RFS mandate is hugely ineffective at promoting the development of climate-beneficial biofuels,” said Jonathan Lewis, Senior Counsel for the Clean Air Task Force.
When Congress expanded the RFS in 2007, one of its primary goals was to radically scale up the production of cellulosic biofuels derived from non-food feedstocks such as agricultural residues and perennial grasses. According to the schedule set by Congress, cellulosic biofuels were supposed to account for nearly one-third of the total RFS volumetric mandate in 2019. Under EPA’s proposed rule, cellulosic biofuels account for less than 2% of the total.
More than a decade has passed since the RFS was expanded, but food-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel still dominate. “The RFS continues to allow economically mature, environmentally destructive biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel to crowd better biofuels out of the market,” said Lewis. “Congress has to fix this broken policy.”
EPA’s proposed RVO ratchets up the overall advanced biofuels volume in 2019 by a half-billion gallons, likely meaning more soy biodiesel would be used to fill gaps created by lower-than expected production of cellulosic biofuels. Greater soy biodiesel production puts pressure on global vegetable oil markets and ultimately contributes to deforestation in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as producers convert tropical forests and carbon-rich peatlands into palm oil plantations and soybean fields.