EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard in the Legal Crosshairs

EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard in the Legal Crosshairs

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25, 2010 (ENS) – Friends of the Earth today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, RFS2.

Represented by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, Friends of the Earth filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC that takes aim at EPA’s use of “outdated data and rosy projections about pollution from corn ethanol in federal biofuels mandate.”

Friends of the Earth Energy Policy Campaigner Kate McMahon said, “The EPA must look at the impact that the biofuels mandate is having on global warming today and not use rosy projections about what the state of biofuel production will be in 2022. Using these projections ensures that for the next several years greenhouse gas emissions will only get worse, rather than better.”

The groups claim that the EPA’s finalized regulations for the Renewable Fuel Standard released in March do not meet standards set in Congress in 2007 for expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard biofuels mandate.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act, passed by Congress in 2007, EPA is required to apply lifecycle greenhouse gas performance threshold standards to ensure that each category of renewable fuel emits fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel it replaces.

Pearson Fuels in San Diego offers multiple alternative fuel options. November 2009. (Photo courtesy Pearson Fuels)

Safeguards to protect natural ecosystems from biofuel crop production were also included, say the plaintiff groups.

In addition to filing the lawsuit, the groups petitioned the EPA to reconsider its assumption that no natural ecosystems will be destroyed to create biofuel plantations. The groups claim that due to this assumption, EPA regulations lack reliable measures to protect natural ecosystems in the United States from conversion to biofuel plantations.

“The EPA also needs to take into consideration current research about existing land conversion for biofuels crop production and provide the congressionally mandated safeguards for natural ecosystems,” said McMahon.

In a second petition to the EPA filed by Clean Air Task Force, but not Friends of the Earth, the agency is asked to reconsider its failure to account for the “global rebound effect” when analyzing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.

The Clean Air Task Force argues that, “By displacing some gasoline from the U.S. market, the RFS reduces overall demand for petroleum, which in turn leads to lower prices, increased consumption, and higher greenhouse gas emissions in other countries. If EPA had considered the ‘global rebound effect’ in its analysis of different biofuels, only a few of those fuels would have met Congress’s emissions reduction requirements.”

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard program was created under the Energy Policy Act, EPAct, of 2005, which established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States.

As required under EPAct, the original RFS program, RFS1, mandated that 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into gasoline by 2012.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act, EISA, of 2007, the RFS program was expanded to include diesel in addition to gasoline.

EISA increased the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from nine billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

“The legal challenge results from the EPA using optimistic projections about emissions from biofuel production in 2022, rather than current data regarding emissions from biofuel production, to finalize lifecycle greenhouse emissions assessments,” the groups said in a statement today.

Using this “flawed method,” the EPA determined that all biofuels meet 2007 emissions standards, despite a growing body of research that indicate some biofuels result in worse emissions than conventional gasoline, the groups argued.

The national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, the Renewable Fuels Association, today took issue with the premise of this lawsuit.

“To blame American biofuels for increasing global oil use defies simple common sense,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “By this tortured logic, any effort that environmental activists support to reduce America’s reliance on oil would be responsible for lowering U.S. oil demand, reducing global oil prices, and inciting increased consumption somewhere else in the world.”

“Increasing mileage standards, deploying electric vehicles, and any other measure designed to reduce U.S. oil demand would be penalized with carbon emissions from increased global oil consumption under this rubric,” said Dinneen.

“As the leading energy consumer in the world, America was right to take proactive steps to reduce our reliance on petroleum and set an example for the world,” said Dinneen.

“These environmental groups are implicitly making the case for keeping U.S. oil demand and prices high, rather than displacing imported oil with biofuels,” he said. “Blocking the use of biofuels will not reduce global oil consumption, but rather increase it as America must look for more sources of oil, which too often comes from environmentally questionable practices like deep water drilling and tar sand conversation.”

Dinneen says Friends of the Earth is incorrect in its claim that the EPA does not protect natural ecosystems by allowing lands to be placed in biofuels production.

“In essence, EPA capped the amount of land that can be used for agriculture at 2007 acreage level,” Dinneen said. “If agricultural land exceeds the 2007 level, biofuel producers must prove that their feedstock did not come from newly converted land. If they can’t prove that, their fuel will not qualify under the RFS2.”

The EPA is facing another lawsuit in a different court over the RFS2 standard. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry association, filed a legal challenge to it with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“While the U.S. oil and natural gas industry recognizes and appreciates the role of ethanol and other biofuels in the fuel marketplace, we are deeply concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency’s final RFS2 rule could result in higher consumer costs,” said API in a statement about the lawsuit dated March 29, three days after standard was issued.

“The U.S. oil and natural gas industry is the biggest consumer of ethanol and other biofuels,” said API. “Almost 80 percent of all gasoline now produced in the United States contains ethanol. API supports a realistic and workable RFS.”

However, said API, “We believe this rule unlawful and unfair.”

“EPA made the rule effective on July 1, 2010,” the industry association said, “while setting unreasonable mandates on refiners that reach back to 2009 for bio-based diesel and to January 1 for the other advanced biofuels.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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