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EPA denies RFS waiver request

Agriculture.com Staff 08/07/2008 @ 11:32am

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Stephen Johnson announced Thursday his agency's denial of Texas Governor Rick Perry's request to roll back the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Perry had sought the current 9-billion-gallon RFS to be slashed to 4.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels. The law mandates the U.S. fuels complex include 11.1 gallons of renewables in 2009.

According to the EPA, Current law authorizes EPA to waive the national RFS if the agency determines that the mandated biofuel volumes would cause "severe harm" to the economy or the environment. The agency recognizes that high commodity prices are having economic impacts, but officials say EPA's extensive analysis of Texas' request found no "compelling evidence" that the RFS mandate is causing severe economic harm during the time period specified by Texas.

"After reviewing the facts, it was clear this request did not meet the criteria in the law," Johnson said Thursday. "The RFS remains an important tool in our ongoing efforts to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions and lessen our dependence on foreign oil, in aggressive yet practical ways."

For Perry, it was a disappointing end to a situation he sees as continuing to inflict harm upon both the livestock industry and food consumers, despite the fact the latter claim being rebuffed by EPA analysis.

"I am greatly disappointed with the EPA's inability to look past the good intentions of this policy to see the significant harm it is doing to farmers, ranchers and American households. For the EPA to assert that this federal mandate is not affecting food prices not only goes against common sense, but every American's grocery bill," Perry said Thursday. "Denying Texas' request is a mistake that will only increase the already-heavy financial burden on families while doing even more harm to the livestock industry. Good intentions and laudable goals are small compensation to the families, farmers and ranchers who are being hurt by the federal government's efforts to trade food for fuel. Any government mandate that artificially props up a single industry to the detriment of millions of Americans is bad public policy."

Leaders from the cattle business expressed similar disappointment with EPA's Thursday RFS waiver ruling. But, the attention drawn to the issue by the public discourse surrounding the issue is hopefully enough to make a difference in the high feed costs cattle producers are facing.

"Our industry has suffered a record of nearly $1.5 billion in cattle feeding losses between January and June of 2008, which we believe constitutes the severe economic impact necessary to prompt a waiver from the RFS mandate," according to a statement Thursday from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). "Although we are not pleased with the outcome of this process, NCBA is glad that this waiver request brought national attention to the plight of our ranchers."

But, the EPA's decision drew quick and high praise from agriculture and renewable fuels groups, as well as corn country lawmakers. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) called the ruling a victory and "blow to those who have used ethanol as a scapegoat for rising fuel and food prices." And, it's a ruling that will help support farmers whose corn and soybeans are marketed to ethanol and biodiesel facilities.

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