Is EPA coming to its senses?
For the first time, agency officials are proposing a reduction in the 2104 Renewable Fuel Standards, a move that would scale back the volume of bio-based ethanol required to be added to the nation’s fuel supply under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
Under that law, some 18.15 billion gallons of ethanol would be required to be added to domestic gasoline. But EPA is now proposing to lower that to only 15 to 15.5 billion gallons.
Is that because the mandate to divert millions of acres of corn production from livestock feed and other food-related uses to ethanol production is a bad idea that neither cures our dependence on foreign oil, nor offers better mileage for motorists, nor mitigates rising food prices for consumers?
Uh, no—not really. According to an EPA statement last week, it’s all about an (alleged) “blend wall” that’s forcing the agency’s hand.
“The proposal seeks to put the RFS program on a steady path forward—ensuring the continued growth of renewable fuels while recognizing the practical limits on ethanol blending,” EPA stated on its website. The blend wall refers to the difficulty in incorporating increasing amounts of ethanol into the transportation fuel supply at volumes exceeding those achieved by the sale of nearly all gasoline as E10 (gasoline containing 10% ethanol), since “overall gasoline consumption in the United States is less than anticipated” when Congress launched the program in 2007.
All that is true, but none of it addresses the underlying issue here: What is the benefit of diverting a significant portion of our national agricultural capacity from food to fuel production? Six years ago, when reducing the country’s virtual enslavement to Mideast oil-producing countries was a political hot button, it might have made sense to temporarily mandate the diversion of agricultural feedstocks into biofuel development.
But since then, the availability of new petroleum sources in North America from oil shale extraction, coupled with increased supplies of natural gas used to fuel buses, trucks and other commercial fleets, significantly turned down the temperature in Washington for a massive, emergency biofuel mandate. That, plus the fact that the recession and a concurrent overall improvement in average gas mileage for passenger cars and trucks—duly noted by EPA in its position statement—resulted in less political pressure and less of a real requirement for biofuels to replace a percentage of the gasoline sold at the pump.