Bill would limit EPA's ability to increase cellulosic RFS volumes

By Erin Voegele | February 18, 2013

Pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to limit the ability of the U.S. EPA to increase the cellulosic biofuel requirements its sets each year under the renewable fuel standard (RFS). The bill, H.R. 796, was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner on Feb. 15 and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. To date, no other federal lawmakers have signed on to sponsor the measure.

According to a copy of the legislation released by Sensenbrenner’s office, the bill would require the EPA to use the commercially available volume of cellulosic biofuel when setting yearly RFS requirements.

Specifically, the legislation would change the way the EPA is directed to estimate the amount cellulosic biofuel that will be available in a given year. Under Sensenbrenner’s bill, the EPA would be limited to increasing the projected cellulosic production level on a year-over-year basis by whichever is greater, 5 percent or 1 million gallons, over the total volume of cellulosic biofuel that was commercially available for the most recent calendar year for which such total volume is known.

According to the text of the bill, the EPA would also be required to reduce the applicable volume of renewable fuel and advanced biofuels for any calendar year during which the cellulosic volume is reduced under the RFS.

“If EPA cannot base their mandate on realistic projections, Congress should act to protect Americans from the agency’s phantom fuel fine,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “When EPA fines refiners millions of dollars for failing to use a nonexistent fuel, consumers will end up paying more at the pump. We want our energy policy to encourage innovation and energy security, but the EPA’s unreasonable approach defies common sense and manipulates the law’s intent. The D.C. Court vacated the EPA’s 2012 projection as unrealistic and an abuse of the agency’s power. What did EPA do? They nearly doubled the 2013 mandate for a fuel that is still commercially unavailable. The EPA is on a runaway political agenda, and the purpose of my bill is to rein in the agency to enforce the law, not an ideology or wishful thinking.”

The Renewable Fuel Association has spoken out to criticize the bill.  “This is worse than irony,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA. “Now that truly meaningful investment is being made in cellulosic ethanol companies that can be witnessed by the steel in the ground and actual production and introduction of millions of gallons of advanced ethanol into the marketplace, the Congressman wants this nation to turn its back on progress—turn back the clock to days of petroleum domination.  Americans want fuel choice, they want cost savings, and they want American energy independence.  America is noted worldwide for its ingenuity and creativity.  Ethanol, especially the next generation that is now coming to fruition before our eyes, is the epitome of the American spirit. Rather than encouraging that uniquely American entrepreneurial spirit, Congressman Sensenbrenner would limit the growth in advanced biofuels to no more than five percent per year.  Clearly, far faster growth will occur if the RFS is left to work as designed.  But in any case, I wonder if Congressman Sensenbrenner would agree to a five percent cap on the growth of non-conventional petroleum from fracking in the same spirit he is trying to cap advances in biofuels to five percent.  Why limit the speed of progress toward energy independence from any domestic resource?”