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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

USEPA Sending Mixed Messages on Climate Change

Published on 06 Feb 2014  |   Written by    |  

A recent article in Politico, Obama’s Agenda: EPA Leading the Charge on Climate Change, noted that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is taking significant action to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) from the electricity sector. The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) applauds the use of sanctioned executive authority to reduce CO2 emission from our electricity sector. According to USEPA, our electricity sector is the leading source (38%) of U.S. CO2 emissions.

 According to the same study, the U.S. transportation sector is the second largest source of national CO2 emissions (31%). Clear to the most casual observer, meaningful, effective and efficient reductions in CO2 emissions and proven mitigation of climate change simply cannot and will not happen without a significant decline of transportation sector CO2 emissions. USEPA correctly reported that using more renewable technology and fuels, rather than less, in both sectors to be an essential means for reducing CO2 emissions.

In his recent State of the Union report to Congress, President Obama noted, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” We believe the President is sincere, but are confused by USEPA’s recent, unprecedented proposed rule under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which for the first-time ever reduces the amount of CO2-reducing renewable fuel available to be blended into gasoline. This rule set aside Congress’ statutory mandate and is even less than the amount mandated last year.

ACORE is baffled by the mixed message USEPA is sending by undermining the RFS, Congress’ most successful policy initiative ever for reducing CO2 emissions. The RFS enables a stable market for renewable fuels and leveraged billions of dollars of private sector investment into the production, blending and distribution of renewable liquid transportation fuels. The result? The RFS has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 33.4 million metric tons since its enactment, while simultaneously diversifying the nation’s fuel source, lowering the cost of gasoline, enhancing our national security and reducing harmful toxic emissions, including proven cancer-causing so-called “aromatic hydrocarbons.”

This is an economic matter too. Javier Garoz Neira, CEO of Abengoa Bioenergy, a leading international biofuels producer, recently said, “If the EPA moves forward with this cap on demand for renewable fuel, it will send an unmistakable signal to both consumers and the industry that they no longer support renewable fuel… The EPA’s proposal has left our industry in limbo…and has the potential to kill the cellulosic industry in the United States.” While numerous companies like Abengoa Bioenergy are continuing to expand production of biofuels, the very fuels essential to reducing CO2 emissions in our transportation sector, USEPA is sending an unequivocal message it no longer supports investment in these fuels. Why is USEPA sending such a message to the private sector?

Why does USEPA want to roll back the RFS, which is one of the few policies mitigating climate change that was enacted with and continues to enjoy strong congressional and national bipartisan support? Who would advocate for such a step?

For President Obama to effectively claim he has done even the most fundamental things he can to mitigate change, USEPA must revise proposed 2014 RFS to the statutorily mandated level 18.01 billion gallons. In addition, USEPA must ensure that increased levels of biofuels are able to be distributed and consumed in the coming years, as mandated by the RFS. Specifically, USEPA must take immediate, concrete steps to reduce the “blend wall,” a fiction of USEPA’s own creation by its own actions and inaction. The “blend wall” refers to the USEPA designed infrastructural, logistical and economic challenges that presently prevent the blending of higher amounts of renewable fuel liquid transportation fuels into gasoline.

USEPA must no longer ignore its Clean Air Act (CAA) mandate and take the following steps to eliminate the “blend wall.” These steps include:

(1) certifying a high-octane ethanol blend of 20-45% on a volumetric basis;

(2) taking steps to ensure the production and availability of blender pumps and flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the market; and

(3) requiring both a phase down of the so-called aromatic hydrocarbons, which are actually the toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in all gasoline blends and make a corresponding replacement with renewable liquid transportation fuels.

VOCs currently comprise 20 – 30% of typical U.S. gasoline and are the primary source of the most dangerous urban pollutants in all gasoline blends.

While we don’t agree with USEPA’s actions regarding the RFS, ACORE still applauds USEPA for the concrete and effective actions it is taking to reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector. Regrettably, such actions alone are not sufficient to mitigate the national security, economic and environmental risks posed by climate change. USEPA must also revise its proposed 2014 RFS to the statutory mandate of 18.01 billion gallons and remove their “self-made” impediments to expanded distribution and consumption of renewable liquid transportation fuels. Then and only then can the Chief Executive claim he has done what he could do to mitigate climate change.

Jeramy Shays

Jeramy Shays is ACORE's Director of Transportation

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