EPA issues proposed rule for RFS2

By Erin Voegele | June 03, 2009
The U.S. EPA released its proposed rulemaking for the second stage of the renewable fuels standard (RFS2) on May 5. The EPA's proposed rule for the RFS2 expands the scope of the program to include all transportation fuels, including gasoline and diesel intended for use in highway vehicles and engines, as well as non-road locomotives and marine engines. As directed by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the proposed rule requires that some renewable fuels achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace.

A fuel pathway is established for each fuel that accounts for GHG emissions produced over the fuel's full lifecycle, including emissions resulting from the production and transport of the feedstock, production, distribution, blending, use and land use. Indirect land use change effects are also included in the fuel pathways of biofuels. With the inclusion of indirect land use change emissions, the EPA estimates typical corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 16 percent when compared to gasoline. Without the inclusion of indirect land use change, corn ethanol is shown to reduce these emissions by approximately 60 percent.

Leaders in the ethanol industry have criticized the EPA's inclusion of indirect land use in the proposed rule for RFS2. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the quantification of land use change emissions included in the agency's lifecycle GHG analysis of ethanol is highly speculative and driven largely by assumptions. "We welcome an open and robust science-based discussion of the indirect impacts of all fuels," said Bob Dinneen, RFA's president and CEO. "The science of market-mediated, secondary impacts is very young and needs more reliance on verifiable data, and less reliance on unproven assumptions. Done correctly, such an analysis will demonstrate a significant carbon benefit is achieved through the use of ethanol from all sources."

While Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis praised the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson for soliciting peer-reviewed science on the life-cycle analysis of biofuels for the purpose of the proposed rule, he said it is important to complete further study on the controversial theory of indirect land use change before finalizing the GHG emissions scores for biofuels. "Indirect land use change theory uses speculative models and incorrect assumptions in an attempt to blame American farmers for deforestation in Brazil," he said. "As the European Union discovered while developing their biofuels regulations, the science on indirect land use is unsettled and the theory is not ready for regulatory usage." In addition, Buis said that indirect land use change as currently proposed doesn't allow an accurate comparison of fuels because it does not include the indirect effects of other fuels. "To include indirect effects in regulations without even considering the indirect effects of other fuels would unfairly bias those regulations against biofuels," he said.

Poet LLC CEO Jeff Broin issued a statement regarding the EPA's announcement in which he expressed concern regarding an indirect land use change penalty for corn ethanol. "While many scientists have found significant flaws in the models used to calculate indirect land use change, I think the very concept is flawed and stems from a lack of understanding of ethanol and agriculture," he said. "Due to increasing efficiencies in our production facilities and the increased corn yields from the fields surrounding them, we don't need new land to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard."

The National Corn Growers Association also weighed in on the issue. "In our conversations with the EPA, we understand a great deal of work needs to be done on modeling and a great effort needs to be put into using current and correct data regarding indirect land use," NCGA President Bob Dickey said. "NCGA will be working closely with the USDA and EPA to ensure scientific data is used."