Appeals court rules against EPA on biofuel estimates

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A federal appeals court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency is overestimating the amount of fuel that can be produced from grasses, wood and other non-food plants in an effort to promote a fledgling biofuels industry.

There have been high hopes in Washington that the cellulosic industry would take off as farmers, food manufacturers and others blamed the skyrocketing production of corn ethanol fuel for higher food prices, according to the Associated Press. Lawmakers hoped that non-food sources such as switchgrass or corn husks could be used instead, although the industry had not yet gotten off the ground.

The 2007 law mandated that billions of gallons of annual production of corn ethanol be mixed with gasoline, eventually transitioning those annual requirements to include more of the nonfood, cellulosic materials to produce the biofuels. As criticism of ethanol has increased, lawmakers and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have talked of the cellulosic materials as the future of biofuels.

It’s unclear how the ruling will affect the marine industry’s longstanding opposition to increasing the level of ethanol in gasoline.

The cellulosic industry stalled in the bad economy and still hasn’t produced much. According to final EPA estimates, no cellulosic fuel was produced in 2010 or 2011. Last year’s estimates aren’t yet available.

“What you have in our industry is a technology that is ready to go, but has had a hard time punching through commercially because of a very challenging global financial climate,” Brooke Coleman of the Advanced Ethanol Council, which represents companies trying to produce cellulosic fuel, told the AP. Coleman said there are better hopes for 2013 as several plants are coming online.

The court faulted the EPA for setting last year’s projections at 8.7 million gallons, even though the two previous years had shown no production, and also for writing in the rule that “our intention is to balance such uncertainty with the objective of promoting growth in the industry.”

Judge Stephen Williams on Friday threw out the too-high EPA estimates in response to a challenge filed by the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry. Williams, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, said the law was not intended to allow the EPA to “let its aspirations for a self-fulfilling prophecy divert it from a neutral methodology.”

The court rejected the oil industry’s arguments that the EPA also should have lowered the total production requirement for renewable fuels once the cellulosic goals were not met, saying the EPA had authority to decide to maintain those requirements.

An EPA spokeswoman would only say the agency will “determine next steps.” The oil industry praised the decision.

“The courts have reined in a mandate for biofuels that don’t exist,” said Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute. “It’s a voice of reason.”

Click here for the full report.

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Comments

3 comments on “Appeals court rules against EPA on biofuel estimates

  1. Lawrence Warner

    Let someone come up with a biofuel that does not cost more than gasoline,like ethanol, and is not governmentally related(or controlled) and people will buy it. Get the covernment out of it and if it stands in it’s merits then fine if not lets have no one threatening us with it.

  2. Tom Marlowe

    So now we have a federal appeals court acting as experts in the field of alternative fuels, as if the EPA wasn’t already doing a bad enough job by requiring ethanol in ever increasing percentages in our gasoline. The good news is that the court seems to have their heads on straight in spite of being a government entity. Biodiesel makes so much better sense than ethanol in many ways but getting the corn lobby to accept this is tough.

  3. enginecom

    Biofuels using feedstock other than corn has only one viable process. This process is called Solid To Liquid Fuel a synthetic fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. The feedstock can be any source of biomass that can be gassified and reliquified using their almost 100yr old process. A South African company is one of the few industrial synth fuel companies operating a pilot plant in the US. They, I read are using natural gas as the feedstock. Coal, grass, wood, trash and any other biological hydrocarbons can be used to generate the gas needed for this synth fuel. The best product is synth diesel with a zero sulfur content. The problem is too many in the government want to push food sources like corn to be used for ethanol production. The end product only yields about 20% more energy than the energy put into producing, fermentation and distillation. We need more industrial support of STLF not government mandates. It is possible to profit from synth fuels without government help as well.

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