By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- The biofuels industry received a boost from a bipartisan group of United States senators who on Thursday leaned on EPA to finalize a Renewable Fuels Standard that sparks continued growth in the industry.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, a group of 37 senators, including Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Pat Roberts, R-Kansas; John Thune, R-South Dakota.; Barbara Boxer, D-California; Richard Durbin, D-Illinois; and Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, to name a few, asked the agency to approve an RFS that matches the purpose of the 2005 law.
"As you work toward finalizing the proposed rule on biofuels volume requirements for 2014 and subsequent years under the Renewable Fuel Standard, we urge you to take this opportunity to reverse course from the 2014 proposed rule and craft targets for domestic biofuels that reflect Congress' intended goals for the RFS," the letter said.
"The RFS has already proven to be an effective driver of alternative fuels and economic development. It has strengthened agriculture markets and created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the new energy economy, many of which are in rural areas. Setting strong biofuels volume requirements for 2014 and beyond will ensure this progress continues."
EPA announced on April 10 that it would put the RFS back on track by setting three years' worth of volumes this year, following a consent decree reached with oil industry groups that had filed a lawsuit.
Through the settlement, EPA would issue final annual volume standards for 2014 and 2015 by the end of this year. The agency also would finalize the standards for 2016 this year, although it is not required by the decree.
EPA said it would re-propose volume requirements for 2014 that reflect the volumes of renewable fuel actually used in 2014. The ethanol industry has raised concerns that releasing 2014 volumes this year would mean nothing to the industry, since 2014 biofuels volumes already have been produced.
By June 1, the agency would propose volume requirements for 2015. By Nov. 30, EPA would finalize volume requirements for 2014 and 2015 and resolve a pending waiver petition for 2014.
Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Tom Buis said in a news release statement the letter to EPA represents broad bipartisan support for the industry.
"This letter is a clear message to the Environmental Protection Agency -- that we must have a strong, a robust Renewable Fuel Standard to help move our nation forwards in terms of alternative energy development," Buis said. "In no uncertain terms, this strong bipartisan coalition of senators have indicated that they are closely watching the EPA as they seek to finalize this rule and that any changes which would undercut the congressional intent or role of the RFS will be met with intense scrutiny and strong objection."
Bob Dinneen, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association, said bipartisan support for the RFS is important.
"It is encouraging to see such broad, bipartisan, and geographically diverse support for the Renewable Fuel Standard," he said in a statement to DTN. "As these senators note, the RFS is working to reduce our dependence on imported oil, lower the consumer price of gasoline, address greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, and drive innovation and investment in the next generation of biofuels. It's leadership like this that will move America's energy future forward. Farmers, entrepreneurs and innovators across the country will applaud these 37 visionaries."
Though next-generation cellulosic ethanol companies have launched commercial production recently, the industry has expressed concern that many of those companies already are considering building second plants outside the United States. That's because EPA delays in issuing RFS volumes has created market uncertainty for those companies.
In the letter, the senators said the RFS originally was designed to spark innovation toward more carbon-friendly fuels.
In addition, the senators questioned EPA's authority to issue an RFS waiver based on infrastructure concerns raised by the oil industry.
"When Congress passed the RFS and it was enacted into law," the senators stated in the letter, "the intent was a forward-looking policy that drives future investments in both biofuels production and the infrastructure necessary to bring these biofuels to market. With its harmful 2014 proposed rule, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limited biofuels volume requirements based on available existing infrastructure, a condition that falls outside of the EPA's clearly defined waiver authority provided by Congress in the RFS.
"The biofuels volume requirements for 2014 and beyond have serious implications for our economy and energy security. We encourage you to ensure a final proposal continues to work toward achieving the RFS' long-term economic and renewable energy goals."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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