US EPA commits to meeting statutory RFS reporting requirements

By Erin Voegele | August 19, 2016

On Aug. 18, the U.S. EPA Office of Inspector General published a report finding the EPA’s Office of Research and Development has not complied with a statutory requirement to provide a report to Congress every three years on the impact of biofuels. A report was provided to Congress in 2011, but subsequent reports have not been provided as required.

In addition, the EPA Office of Inspector General said the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation has not fulfilled the antibacksliding requirements for the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which require the agency to analyze and address any negative air quality impacts of the program. According to the report, the EPA completed a comprehensive lifecycle analysis in 2010 to determine greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction thresholds for the RFS. While the EPA is not required by statute to do so, the agency made a commitment to update the analysis as lifecycle science evolves. However, the report states the EPA does not have a process in place to initiate those update activities.

“The RFS reporting requirement provides for an objective analysis on the environmental impacts and unintended consequences of U.S. biofuel policy,” said the EPA Office of Inspector General in the report. “This analysis is important given conflicting scientific opinions about biofuel impacts, potential impacts outside of the EPA’s regulatory control, and divergent RFS interests. The EPA does not have an assessment that meets the requirement to identify whether RFS creates any impacts on air quality and, thus, take required measures to mitigate impacts. This information is needed to fully inform the EPA, Congress and other stakeholders of the environmental impacts of U.S. biofuel policy. In June 2016, Congress held a hearing on RFS implementation. Members expressed bipartisan interest in receiving more information from the EPA on the environmental impacts, to help assess whether the law’s original intent is being achieved and at what cost.”

Within the report, the EPA Office of Inspector General makes four specific recommendations. First, it recommends that the assistant administrator for research and development provide triennial reports to Congress on the impacts of biofuels as required by law. The EPA agreed and said it plans to complete the first required report by the end of next year.

Second, it recommended the assistant administrator for air and radiation complete the antibacksliding study of the air quality impacts of the RFS, as required by statute. Third, it recommends the assistant administrator for air and radiation determine if any additional action is needed to mitigate any adverse air quality impacts of the RFS, as required by statute. The EPA agreed to both recommendations and said it plans to complete the requirement no later than the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024.

Finally, it recommended the assistant administrator for air and radiation develop or identify a process for evaluating the science relevant to lifecycle analysis and determine whether revisiting the original GHG threshold determinations is necessary. The EPA initially disagreed with this fourth recommendation, noting that a process is already in place to inform consideration of the need for any reevaluation of the GHG determinations. However, the agency did agree to a revised recommendation that it develop or identify the process it uses to assess, evaluate and actively decide whether to update the lifecycle GHG analyses used to make the original GHG threshold determinations. The planned completion date is Sept. 30, 2018.

A full copy of the report is available on the EPA website

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