The Hill: Renewable fuels: Due for a reality check

March 12, 2013

John M. DeCicco, March 12- A growing chorus of congressional voices are calling for revisions to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Proposals by Rep. Goodlatte (R-Va.) to limit or repeal the standard have been joined by bills from Sens. Wicker (R-Miss.) and Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that would cap the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline at ten percent.

These efforts come on the heels of pleas from 10 governors, nearly 200 members of Congress and diverse businesses groups from around the country calling for administrative waivers of ethanol requirements. However, these appeals have been largely denied by the EPA, which is holding to a strict interpretation of the stringent and expansive RFS mandate that Congress enacted in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.

With last year’s drought destroying much of the corn crop and forecasts of dangerously dry climatic conditions continuing, the downsides of an overly ambitious RFS are all too clear. To understand how we got here, some history is in order.

Renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel were long hailed as alternatives to petroleum. These biofuels bolster corn and soybean farmers' incomes and claimed to protect the climate by recycling carbon from the air. As prices at the pump climbed over the previous decade, biofuel proponents lobbied to replace oil with home-grown biofuels. Some major environmental organizations — enthralled by the prospect of growing energy instead of drilling for it and lulled by lopsided studies touting biofuels' benefits — threw their weight behind the effort.

In response, Congress created the RFS in 2005 with an original target of seeing 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol blended into the fuel supply by 2012. That would have been a safe goal, one that could be met by blending ethanol at levels below the 10 percent limit compatible with most of the cars already on the road and millions of small gasoline engines in motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, home generators, boats and many other items.