By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2012 advanced biofuel standard for renewable fuels was affirmed by a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit Jan. 25, while the cellulosic biofuel standard was vacated because the court felt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) impermissibly set the volume target to foster growth in the industry.
The decision upheld the advanced biofuel requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) and prompted a flurry of press conferences, news releases and emails from the biofuel industry.
“Although we disagree with the court’s decision vacating the 2012 cellulosic volumes, today’s decision once again rejects broad-brushed attempts to effectively roll back the federal RFS,” read a joint statement issued by groups including the Advanced Biofuels Organization (ABFA), Advanced Ethanol Council, American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Assoc. (RFA).
Litigation by the American Petroleum Institute (API) sought to waive the EPA’s mandate of 8.7 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel for 2012, and specifically challenged the process EPA used to ascertain that volume.
The court agreed, but rejected API’s argument that EPA was required to adhere to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections in setting its own.
The court also rejected API’s assertion that EPA should not be allowed to consider information from cellulosic biofuel producers in setting its projections for applicable volumes.
“This is just the latest in a series of cases in which the oil industry has tried unsuccessfully to re-litigate the standards for renewable fuels, and it is yet another victory for our nation’s shift toward cleaner, more diverse energy supplies,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), immediately following the ruling.
“The fact is that the RFS is a very effective program for improving U.S. energy security, creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We look forward to working constructively with our partners in the petroleum industry to meet these goals moving forward.”
An essay published by University of Illinois professors Jody M. Endres and A. Bryan Endres on Jan. 30 summarized the projected impact of the decision on future RFS mandates.
“Although the court rejected EPA’s approach favoring overestimation of projected cellulosic biofuel production, the RFS itself and EPA’s general methodology of establishing both advanced and cellulosic biofuel projections, both survived the API challenge,” the essay published on farmdoc.daily.illinois.edu read, in part.
“The agency retains significant flexibility to justify deviations, even substantial deviations, from EIA estimates. The real question going forward with the cellulosic biofuel industry, however, will not be EPA projections, but the technical ability of the industry to develop capacity to meet RFS mandates in the future.”
As news of the court’s ruling filtered throughout the biofuel industry, the EPA proposed its RFS for 2013 last Thursday. The standards establish overall production goal volumes for renewable fuels under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which fostered the RFS2 program.
The proposed 2013 overall volumes and standards are as follows: biomass-based diesel, 1.28 billion gallons, or 1.12 percent of total U.S. fuel consumption; advanced biofuel, 2.75 billion gallons, or 1.6 percent; cellulosic biofuel, 14 million gallons or 0.008 percent; and total renewable fuels, 16.55 billion gallons, or 9.63 percent.
According to an EPA news release, EPA’s 2013 RFS2 program encourages greater use of renewable fuel, including advanced biofuel. As part of the new projections for production, 1.35 billion gallons of renewable fuel will be produced over the amount mandated for 2012.
“The 2013 RFS requirements will be the catalyst that finally compels oil companies to get serious about breaching the so-called blend wall,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dineen. “This year’s RFS will necessitate the use of more E15, E85 and other higher-level blends.
“Injecting larger volumes of biofuels into the U.S. fuel supply and spurring a more rapid transition to domestically produced renewables is exactly what the RFS was intended to do.”
The NBB also welcomed the EPA’s proposals, which are subject to a 45-day public comment period. “The U.S. biodiesel industry is poised and ready to help meet these (2013) requirements, and that will mean reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a better economy and more domestic fuel choices for consumers,” Steckel commented.