Industry slams report that calls for RFS reforms

By Holly Jessen | October 16, 2015

Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association responded to a report that came out of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Oct. 15, which called for reforming the renewable fuels standard (RFS).

“Clearly this study was published with an agenda and without regard to the facts,” Tom Buis, co-chairman of Growth Energy said in a statement. “It is misleading, inaccurate and runs counter to a large body of expert research. Slapping a new title on this previously discredited research won’t change the facts, and those who published this study clearly have little interest in doing anything other than maintaining the status quo of our dangerous addiction to foreign oil and fossil fuels.”

“Over the past decade the Renewable Fuel Standard has proven time and time again why it is our nation’s most successful energy policy,” said Geoff Cooper, RFA senior vice president. “Its impact on our nation’s energy security, economy, and environment is unmatched.”

He went on to highlight benefits to consumers. “At the end of the day, the biggest winner, with respect to the RFS, has been our nation’s consumers who have been given more affordable choices at the pump, and have also been provided with a safe, clean source of home-grown energy,” Cooper said.

Both Cooper and Buis highlighted the ties to the petroleum industry by the organization that commissioned the study. The American Council for Capital Formation, according to its website, has policy goals of “strong capital formation, a balanced regulatory regime, and cost effective environmental policies.” ACCF is a member of the Smarter Fuel Future coalition, which seeks to reform the RFS. Other members include groups representing manufacturers of snowmobiles and motorcycles, food retailers, dairy farmers, the poultry industry and more.

The 55-page report included a graph from University of Minnesota research, which showed corn ethanol increases emissions of pollutants compared to gasoline. That study was strongly critiqued by the ethanol industry for multiple reasons, including the fact that the results contradicted the most recent DOE GREET model. In addition, testing this summer by the Urban Air Initiative showed gasoline with no ethanol content had higher toxic emissions. 

Cooper pointed out that multiple analyses by groups such as the U.S. DOE, University of Illinois, International Energy Agency, Life Cycle Associates and others have shown that ethanol does reduce greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to petroleum. “A recent study by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Energy Resource Center concluded that the proposal by the EPA to decrease ethanol use by 1.6 billion gallons in 2015 could increase CO2 emissions by 4,520,000 metric tons for that year, which is the equivalent of putting nearly 1 million additional passenger vehicles on the road,” he added.

Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, one of the UT authors, mentioned that corn ethanol has been presented as a bridge to advanced biofuels. “However, the reality is clear that this policy has been a bridge to nowhere,” he said.

Not so, said Buis. “There is an inextricable link,” he said, “between first generation corn based ethanol and next generation fuels such as cellulosic ethanol.”

He referenced a report by Third Way, a centrist think tank, which concluded the same. Abengoa, Poet-DSM and Quad County Corn Processors, all companies also involved with the corn ethanol industry, account for more than 80 percent of total U.S. cellulosic ethanol capacity, the Third Way report said. Once DuPont starts up its cellulosic ethanol facility (a grand opening is set for the end of October) that number goes up to 88 percent. 

Buis called the renewable fuels industry a win-win for the United States. “We are creating jobs and revitalizing rural economies, as well as improving our environment and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil – all while providing consumers a choice and savings at the pump,” he said. “Biofuel producers are working to meet the energy needs of America, while Big Oil is desperate to maintain their 90 percent monopoly on the motor fuels market and are willing to do anything to protect their bottom line, profits and the status quo.”

The full report can be accessed online