Biofuels advocates made their voices heard Aug. 1 as they testified at an annual EPA public hearing in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to reporters by teleconference before the hearing, leaders of the renewable fuels industry voiced support for the EPA’s 15 billion gallon proposed Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) level for ethanol usage in 2018. But they said they were disappointed by the proposal for just 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2019 and by the cut in the RFS for cellulosic ethanol to only 17 million gallons.
“Ethanol is important for our country,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts told reporters during the teleconference, which was hosted by Fuels America, a biofuel industry organization.
He said ethanol is a key octane enhancer — use allows fuel companies to reduce levels of carcinogens in fuel.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was among the speakers at the hearing applauding the federal government’s proposed renewable fuel volumes for 2018, but farm-state and renewable energy industry officials expressed concern that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was “backpedaling” on future advanced biofuel production.
Reynolds and others testified at a hearing in Washington, D.C., that fuel production levels will drive demand and investment decisions critical to the industry and rural economies.
“As the current ag economy experiences a downturn,” Reynolds testified, “sustainable and predictable renewable fuels markets are incredibly impactful to the bottom line of farmers and rural Iowa.”
She and others expressed hope the EPA would adjust the numbers before issuing a final rule in November.
During the teleconference, several industry leaders said the levels set for advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol made from corn stover or other feedstocks was clearly too low. The industry could meet that level today, they said, and could easily boot up production to dramatically increase the figure if given the incentive by the government.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) industrial and environmental section.
He said the EPA could “fast-track” approval of some technologies that could be used by many ethanol production facilities. That might include use of more of the corn kernel, as is done at one Iowa ethanol plant today. He also said there is a surplus of RINs (renewable identification numbers) on the market, meaning oil companies could meet their obligations by trading or buying the RINS on the market.
Meanwhile, biodiesel producers said the 2.1 billion gallon level for 2019 is lower than the level of consumption happening right now. Since the targets are at least partially designed to promote more usage, the EPA level doesn’t make sense, they said.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said the proposed 2019 biodiesel level was “flatlined” at 2.1 billion gallons compared with 2016 consumption of 2.9 billion gallons, while the proposal cuts cellulosic ethanol by 25 percent.
Iowa farmer and American Soybean Association vice president John Heisdorffer testified that the EPA should increase the RFS volume for biomass-based diesel to at least 2.75 billion gallons for 2019.
“Our industry has always advocated for RFS volumes that are modest and achievable, and we have met or exceeded the targets each and every year that the program has been in place,” Heisdorffer said in a news release.
Additional reporting by Rod Boshart, Des Moines Bureau.