Legislation compels EPA to act on RFS pathways, registrations

By Erin Voegele | February 04, 2021

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Feb. 4 reintroduced legislation that aims to approve certain advanced biofuel registrations under the Renewable Fuel Standard that the U.S. EPA has failed to take action on and set a deadline for the agency to act on future RFS pathway and registration petitions. The two senators previously introduced the bill in June 2020.

The bill would approve certain advanced biofuel registrations that have languished before the EPA despite the fuels being successfully used in at least one state. EPA would also be required to render a decision within 90 days on any registration application that has been pending for at least 180 days, as well as take action within 180 days for completed pathway petitions pending for at least 180 days. The bill also provides $2 million for EPA to carry out the functions of the legislation.

RFS pathway petitions and registration petitions are related, but separate components, of the RFS program. Pathways are the feedstock method through which certain renewable fuels can be created. Registrations, however, are individual certifications for producers affirming that their renewable fuel meets the standard required by a certain pathway.

Thune’s office explained that the EPA approved a pathway for corn kernel fiber in 2014. The agency, however, has not advanced numerous registration applications related to that pathway despite applications meeting stringent peer review requirements and being approved for sale in at least one state.

The EPA has also been criticized over its inaction on renewable electricity pathways. Despite clear direction from Congress, the agency has yet to allow any renewable electricity producer participate in the RFS program.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard has been a driver of American energy innovation, but regulatory inaction has stifled the advancement of promising technologies like ethanol derived from corn kernel fiber,” Thune said. “This bill will permit biofuel producers to capitalize on the research and facility investments they have made to bring this technology to scale, improve their operating margins, and further lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. This will strengthen the biofuel industry, which continues to provide an essential market for South Dakota farmers.”

“We must constantly look for innovative ways to fuel our transportation sector so the United States leads the next chapter of energy efficiency and renewable technology, especially as we confront the intensifying climate crisis,” Shaheen said. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bill along with Senator Thune to tackle the backlog of advanced biofuel registrations, empowering producers to utilize the latest technology and research in fuel production. I have long worked to level the playing field for our biomass producers to participate in the Renewable Fuel Standard, and I’ll continue to fight for investments that strengthen our energy industry to build a more sustainable future.”

Representatives of Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association and Biomass Power Association have spoken out in support of the bill.

“Advanced and cellulosic biofuels are proven to provide low-cost and low-emission alternatives to petroleum-based fuel,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “It is time EPA addresses the current regulatory backlog that is stifling fuel technology progress that allows our country to harness the clean, renewable energy available from agricultural residue, corn fiber, and waste. The Biden administration has been clear in setting aggressive clean energy goals for our country, which is why Senators Thune and Shaheen’s legislation arrives at the perfect time. Further developing advanced biofuels would help provide the clean fuel necessary to reduce emissions and decarbonize our transportation sector.” 

“For years, EPA has prevented new and innovative low carbon fuels from entering the marketplace by refusing to approve registration requests and new pathway petitions under the RFS,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “RFA applauds Senators Thune and Shaheen for their efforts to finally remove the logjam that has been keeping hundreds of millions of gallons of cellulosic biofuels—including ethanol produced from corn kernel cellulose—from reaching the market.”   

"We greatly appreciate the support of Sen. Thune and Sen. Shaheen in getting the EPA to process RFS applications and pathway petitions,” said Carrie Annand, executive director of the BPA. “For more than a decade, the biomass power industry has been waiting to participate in the RFS. Our members deserve credit for supplying carbon beneficial power for electric transportation, and the consistent support of these Senators will be instrumental in making this happen." 

A full copy of the bill can be downloaded from Thune’s website