Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) regulations that establish the volume 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.
“Once again, today’s announcement demonstrates that the RFS is badly broken. Instead of promoting climate-beneficial biofuels as the law intends, the RFS continues encourage the overproduction of corn ethanol and soy biodiesel – two biofuels that make climate change worse,” said Jonathan Lewis, Senior Counsel for the Clean Air Task Force (CATF).
When Congress expanded the RFS in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), one of its primary goals was to dramatically scale up the production of cellulosic biofuels derived from non-food feedstocks such as agricultural residues and perennial grasses. According to the production schedule set by Congress, cellulosic biofuels were supposed to account for nearly one-third of the total RFS mandate in 2019. But under EPA’s final rule released today, cellulosic biofuels account for only 2%.
Nearly 11 years have passed since the RFS was expanded, but food-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel still dominate the program, causing environmental destruction of wildlife habitat, forests, wetlands, and native grasslands. “First-generation biofuels have proven to be a bridge to nowhere, crowding better biofuels out of the market,” said Lewis. “Congress must step in to fix this broken policy.”
EPA set the final biomass-based diesel mandate for 2020 at 2.43 billion gallons and ratcheted up the so-called “advanced biofuel” mandate for 2019 by 630 million gallons. Both changes are likely to drive up demand for soy biodiesel. By diverting soybean oil to the fuel sector, the RFS puts pressure on global vegetable oil markets and contributes to deforestation in Southeast Asia and Latin America, as producers convert carbon-rich peatlands and tropical forests into palm oil plantations and soybean fields.
Because the overarching RVO for “total renewable fuel” is more than 20% lower than the statutory target (and was more than 20% lower last year, as well), a provision in EISA now requires EPA to reset the overall RFS volumes for 2020 and beyond. CATF looks forward to working with the Agency as it considers the environmental impact of the RFS and other important factors within the reset process.