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EPA Biofuel Policy In Shambles, So It Mandates More Ethanol

Despite complaints from the oil industry, livestock producers, environmental groups and a whole host of others, the Environmental Protection Agency has increased the amount of biofuels refiners are required to blend into the fuel supply every year.

The agency is issuing standards two years late, and mandating that 17.40 billion gallons of biofuels — cellulosic, biomass-based and advanced fuels — be blended into U.S. fuel supplies. The EPA and ethanol producers celebrated the announcement, but they seem to be the only ones as most other interest groups oppose the mandate in its current form.

Even environmental activists oppose increasing the federal biofuel mandate, as do anti-hunger groups. Eco-groups argue biofuels, especially corn ethanol, are harming the environment, while hunger groups say the mandate raises food prices.

“We calculate that the corn ethanol mandate has been worse for the climate than projected emissions from the controversial Keystone XL pipeline,” wrote Emily Cassidy, a researcher with the Environmental Working Group. “What makes matters worse is that the EPA just mandated that more corn ethanol must go into American gas tanks.”

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard was first enacted during the Bush administration, and was subsequently expanded to push more ethanol production on fuel markets. The RFS requires ever-increasing amounts of biofuels, mostly ethanol, to be blended into U.S. fuel supplies.

RFS proponents say mandating ethanol blending will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and help the environment. But so far, the RFS seems to have caused more problems for fuel markets than government planners predicted.

Starting in 2013, fuel refiners warned they were hitting the limits to what they could safely blend into gas supplies without damaging car engines — the so-called “blend wall.” Currently, most car engines can only handle a 10 percent ethanol blend before being exposed to serious engine problems. Refiners worries were somewhat alleviated by the EPA in 2014, but RFS critics are still clamoring for reform or repeal of the law.

“Every year since the Renewable Fuel Standard was expanded, EPA has missed implementation deadlines, waived entire portions of annual required volumes, and has had to approve imported feedstocks for RFS compliance,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement.

“All of these actions by EPA give a clear case for a mismanaged program in need of rigorous oversight,” Inhofe said.

For years, biofuels proponents argued the RFS was necessary to keep the some state economies afloat and help the environment. The biofuel lobby even argues ethanol is good for national defense.

“This proposal is a significant step in the right direction,” Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, said in a statement. “It is not perfect, but it will get the U.S. biodiesel industry growing again and put people back to work.”

But the biofuel makers have run into increasing opposition as ethanol production draws more and more corn crops, driving up food prices and harming the environment through increases in crop lands.

“So far the federal corn ethanol mandate has resulted in a massive influx of dirty corn ethanol, which is bad for the climate and bad for consumers,” Cassidy wrote. “The only interest it benefits is the ethanol industry.”

Republican control of both houses of Congress could mean a reform or repeal of the mandate, but President Barack Obama could still veto any such effort. The Obama administration has remained in the pro-RFS camp.

“This proposal marks an important step forward in making sure the Renewable Fuel Standard program delivers on the Congressional intent to increase biofuel use, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security,” Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air, said in a statement on the release.

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