RFS at a Crossroads

By Anne Steckel | August 26, 2013

By now you’ve surely noticed the debate on Capitol Hill over the renewable fuel standard (RFS). We wanted to take a moment to offer a clear outline of what the issues are and where we think they’re headed, while also calling on everyone who supports the RFS to reach out to their members of Congress regularly as the process plays out this year.

First, the good news. As Biodiesel Magazine Editor Ron Kotrba highlighted recently, biodiesel is a bright spot in the RFS. Our industry is exceeding its volume requirements and producing enough fuel to fill the vast majority of the advanced biofuel pool. We are an EPA-designated advanced biofuel that’s doing just what the RFS promised: creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving U.S. energy security by diversifying our fuel supplies.

This is not going unnoticed in Washington. At recent Congressional hearings, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have highlighted the benefits of biodiesel’s growth. However, many other lawmakers remain unconvinced, or unaware, of our industry’s success, and we need to redouble our efforts to make sure they know our story, with an emphasis on how it is helping businesses in their districts.

First, let’s recap what’s happened on Capitol Hill. Petroleum groups and other critics have cranked up their criticism of the RFS, making repeal a top priority and pressing lawmakers to do something.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has taken the lead on reviewing the program, seeking feedback from stakeholders through a series of white papers on various issues of concern, and more recently holding several hearings exploring those issues. We have submitted responses to each of the white papers outlining our industry’s successes, and National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe testified at one of the hearings, on July 23, doing an excellent job in delivering our message.

In July, a small working group of House members, led by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., was named by Republican leadership to take the lead in exploring potential legislation. Meanwhile, Senate leaders said just before Congress’ August recess that they would hold hearings on the RFS in the fall.

To date, most of the debate has focused on the ethanol blend wall, the shortfall in cellulosic ethanol production, rising RIN prices and RIN fraud. Many lawmakers, particularly those in oil-heavy districts, are calling for full repeal of the program, and legislation to repeal or effectively gut the program has been introduced in the House and Senate. It appears, however, that the debate is heading more toward whether the policy should be somehow altered or amended.

While some of those efforts may be well-intentioned, we firmly believe that no legislative changes are needed because Congress, when it initially created the RFS, gave the EPA tremendous flexibility in managing the program and ensuring it runs smoothly. The EPA can adjust volume requirements as needed, for example, and in fact in its most recent announcement finalizing 2013 volume requirements, the agency reduced the cellulosic requirement, and said it planned further reductions in 2014 to address concerns that have been raised.

Additionally, we are concerned that legislative changes could end up being a Trojan horse for weakening or gutting the RFS. There are powerful and well-funded interests lining up against the program. Unnecessarily opening it up in Congress, even for tweaking, when the EPA already has that authority could quickly turn into an opening for critics to significantly undermine the program and its benefits.

Because of these concerns, we urge you to closely follow this debate and make a habit of talking to your members of Congress about the importance of the RFS to our industry and to your business. If you need help contacting your members, please don’t hesitate to call our Washington office.

The RFS—a backbone of our industry—is at a critical juncture in Washington, and we need your help to ensure its continued success.

Anne Steckel, Vice President of Federal Affairs, National Biodiesel Board

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