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EPA finally sets date for RFS reset

The EPA has a free hand in writing the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2023, but the agency could be 18 months late and operating under a court order when it finally issues its proposal this fall. A biofuel trade group says nailing down the release date is a milestone in the campaign for expanded use of the alternative fuels.

Under a proposed consent decree, the EPA would unveil the potentially precedent-setting 2023 RFS by Nov. 16 and finalize the regulations by June 14, 2023, said trade group Growth Energy. A federal district court judge was expected to approve the decree in the coming weeks.

When it created the RFS during the ethanol boom of the early 2000s, Congress set annual targets for renewable fuel use through 2022. Under a so-called regulatory reset, the EPA would set the RFS for 2023 and later years based on criteria in U.S. air pollution law, such as the impact of renewable fuels on air quality, climate change, wildlife habitat, food and fuel prices, and the availability of advanced fuels.

The biofuel industry sees the reset as a prime opportunity for a larger share of the fuel market. Sales of corn ethanol, the most successful alternative transportation fuel deployed in the United States, are constrained by the “blend wall” created by the traditional 10 percent mixture of ethanol into gasoline. The biofuel industry has promoted higher blends, such as E15 and E85, with limited success.

Chief executive Emily Skor said Growth Energy, after getting the EPA to agree to a deadline for the new RFS, “will continue to lead engagement with EPA as it develops its proposal, while advocating for volumes that accelerate the move toward lower-carbon, lower-cost fuel in our transportation system.” Statutes called for EPA to complete the 2023 RFS 14 months before it would take effect, or Nov. 1, 2021. The trade group sued the EPA in April to force it to set a date.

Since 2015, the statutory ceiling for ethanol use in fueling cars and pickup trucks has been 15 billion gallons. The Renewable Fuels Association, which has said the 2023 RFS should bump up the targets for use of all types of renewables, celebrated the 10-year anniversary of E15 sales in a blog last week. E15 is sometimes labeled as “Unleaded 88” or “Clean 88,” a reference to its octane rating and the lower volume of greenhouse gases emitted.

“The first tank of E15 was the culmination of years of work,” wrote RFA vice president Robert White in the blog.

Two dozen senators, including Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, urged the EPA to set higher targets for biomass-based diesel in the 2023 and 2024 RFS.

“Biodiesel and renewable diesel are the first advanced biofuels under the RFS to reach commercial-scale production nationwide,” said the senators. “The production and use of biomass-based diesel contributes significantly to our economy and environment.”

The EPA set the RFS at 20.88 billion gallons for this year, including 15.25 billion gallons of ethanol and 2.76 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel, which would be nearly half of the goal of 5.63 billion gallons of next-generation advanced biofuels.

“At EPA, we are laser-focused on providing more options for consumers at the pump, and today we are taking steps to increase the availability of homegrown biofuels,” said EPA administrator Michael Regan in announcing the 2022 RFS. “We remain committed to working with all RFS stakeholders to build on today’s actions and deliver certainty and stability in the RFS program.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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