The Detroit News: Time for Realism on Renewable Fuels

January 2, 2013

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency upheld its requirement for blending ethanol into gasoline. Though not unexpected given the strength of renewable fuel interests, this decision ignored the pleas of 10 governors, almost 200 members of Congress and many Michigan businesses. With drought destroying much of America's corn crop this summer and Thanksgiving dinners costing significantly more since 2005, the downsides of renewable fuels became all too clear. Responsibility now falls to Congress to roll back the unrealistic renewable fuel goals set in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.

To understand how we got to this unhappy place, a bit of history is needed. Renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel have long been hailed as alternatives to America's reliance on petroleum. The fuels bolster crop farmers' incomes and claim to protect the planet by recycling carbon from the air. As prices at the pump climbed over the last decade, biofuel proponents rallied support for a mandate to replace petroleum with home-grown biofuels.

In response, Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2005, which increased the amount of ethanol blended into the gasoline supply each year. Initially, the target was 7.5 billion gallons for 2012. That would have been a safe goal, one that could be met by blending ethanol into gasoline at levels below the 10-percent limit compatible with most of the millions of engines already in use.

But that target wasn't enough for some interests, who worked on Capitol Hill to exploit ongoing concerns about rising oil prices and energy security.

With ink barely dry on the original RFS, biofuel boosters teamed up with energy security hawks and several green groups to promote a bigger and bolder mandate. Pitching a grand plan for “growing energy” as a win-win solution, they worked with allies in Congress to craft complex requirements for a vastly expanded RFS, giving biofuel producers and financiers a massive guaranteed market that more than quadrupled the original target.

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