WASHINGTON -- Seeking to put the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program on a steady path forward while also seeking input on different approaches to address the "E10 blend wall," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed for public comment the levels of renewable fuels to be blended into gasoline and diesel as required by Congress under the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007.
In a separate action, the EPA is also seeking comment on petitions for a waiver of the RFS that would apply in 2014. The agency said it expects that a determination on the substance of the petitions will be issued at the same time that it issues a final rule establishing the 2014 RFS.
Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, it will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
Developed with input from the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the proposal seeks public input on annual volume requirements for renewable fuels in all motor vehicle gasoline and diesel produced or imported by the United States in 2014.
The proposal discusses a variety of approaches for setting the 2014 standards, and includes a number of production and consumption ranges for key categories of biofuel covered by the RFS program. The proposal seeks comment on a range of total renewable fuel volumes for 2014 and proposes a level within that range of 15.21 billion gallons. Specifically, EPA is seeking comment on the following proposed volumes:
- Cellulosic biofuel: Proposed volume of 17 million gallons; range of 8-30 million gallons.
- Biomass-based diesel: 1.28 billion gallons; 1.28 billion gallons.
- Advanced biofuel: 2.20 billion gallons; 2-2.51 billion gallons.
- Renewable fuel: 15.21 billion gallons; 15-15.52 billion gallons.
(All volumes are ethanol-equivalent, except for biomass-based diesel which is actual.)
Nearly all gasoline sold in the United States is now E10, which is fuel with up to 10% ethanol. Production of renewable fuels has been growing rapidly in recent years. At the same time, advances in vehicle fuel economy and other economic factors have pushed gasoline consumption far lower than what was expected when Congress passed the RFS in 2007. As a result, we are now at the "E10 blend wall," the point at which the E10 fuel pool is saturated with ethanol. If gasoline demand continues to decline, as currently forecast, continuing growth in the use of ethanol will require greater use of higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.
The Obama Administration has taken a number of steps to allow or encourage the use of these higher ethanol blends. In 2010, EPA approved E15 for use in vehicles newer than model year 2001 and developed labeling rules to enable retailers to market E15. In addition, since 2011, USDA has made funding available through the Rural Energy for America Program to support deployment of "flex-fuel" pumps that can dispense a range of ethanol blends.
The 2014 proposal seeks input on what additional actions could be taken by government and industry to help overcome current market challenges, and to minimize the need for adjustments in the statutory renewable fuel volume requirements in the future. Looking forward, the proposal clearly indicates that growth in capacity for ethanol consumption would continuously be reflected in the standards set beyond 2014. EPA looks forward to further engagement and additional information from stakeholders as the agency works in consultation with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy toward the development of a final rule.
The renewable fuels program was developed by Congress in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on foreign oil. The standards determine how much renewable fuel a refiner or importer is responsible for, and are the standards designed to achieve the national volumes for each type of renewable fuel.
"The EPA's proposal to decrease ethanol requirements will help drivers by preventing a surge in gas prices or the premature expansion of E15 gasoline sales. While we would like to increase the use of alternative fuels, it is a plain fact that the Renewable Fuels Standard's original targets are unreachable without putting motorists and their vehicles at risk," Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, said.
"The EPA has finally put consumers first. Their proposal will support the continued development of alternative fuels, while also recognizing the needs of the millions of people that drive every day. Today's proposal is an important step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Suggesting a range for 2014 targets does not guarantee that motorists will be protected from the risk of higher ethanol blends. We encourage the EPA to act quickly to finalize specific targets that help protect drivers nationwide.
"The vast majority of cars on the roads today are not designed to run on gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol. While ethanol has the potential to support the economy and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, it is irresponsible to mandate more ethanol than cars can safely use."
More than 90% of the vehicles on the road today are not approved by manufacturers to use E15, including most 2001-2013 models. E15 is only approved for use by automakers in flex-fuel engines, 2001 and newer Porsches, and selected 2012 and newer vehicles where it is clearly specified in the owner's manual. While new models increasingly can use E15 gasoline, previous makes and models were never designed to use the fuel. It will still take at least another decade before the bulk of the fleet will be E15 compatible given that the average vehicle remains in use for more than 11 years."
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