The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest ethanol fuel proposal has angered both supporters and critics of biofuel blends and prompted a new marine industry call for Congress to take decisive action on Renewable Fuel Standard reform.
Although it proposed increasing the amount of ethanol required in the overall fuel supply, the EPA also lowered the amounts required by the Clean Air Act. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would inject $100 million in funding to help the infrastructure support getting more ethanol at the pumps.
“EPA is proposing volumes which, while below the volumes originally set by Congress, would increase renewable fuel use in the U.S. above historical levels and provide for steady growth over time,” the EPA said on May 31, the last day it had to announce the proposed levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016. (The public comment period regarding the elevated blends lasts until July 27.)
In November 2013, the EPA proposed scaling back the 2014 mandate to blend corn ethanol and more advanced biofuels into gasoline for the first time ever, conflicting with the Renewable Fuel Standard as it was written in 2007. However, the agency subsequently withdrew that 2014 proposal after the biofuels industry fiercely opposed it.
Immediately after the May announcement, Smarter Fuel Future held a press conference call with members that included BoatUS, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Environmental Working Group, the American Motorcycle Association and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
“The announcement today does nothing to alleviate concerns about misfueling,” says NMMA legal and regulatory affairs director Nicole Vasilaros, adding that it’s a “big concern for marine products” because boats are federally prohibited from using fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol. “As the blend wall creeps up, we’re concerned about the continued availability of E10, which we are required to use, and E0,” or gas with no ethanol, which has seen widespread increasing use in the marine industry.
The blend wall is the term used for the maximum amount of ethanol in fuel that can be tolerated by all engines — which is E10, or 10 percent ethanol. Because the RFS has the amount of ethanol flatly increasing — despite a large, unanticipated drop in fuel demand — increasing the amount of ethanol blended into the supply will cause blends to increase to E15 and higher, critics say.
The EPA announced that the total amount of renewable fuel blending would be 15.93 billion gallons in 2014, 16.30 billion gallons in 2015 and 17.40 billion gallons in 2016 — more than 4 billion gallons a year less than the amount Congress called for in the 2007 legislation. The statutory requirement for 2016 is 22.25 billion gallons.
“We’re balancing two dynamics: Congress’ clear intent to increase renewable fuel over time to address climate change and increase energy security, and the real-world circumstances that have slowed progress toward these goals,” Janet McCabe, the EPA’s air pollution regulator, told reporters after the proposals were issued.
Emily Cassidy of the Environmental Working Group says her group opposes ethanol because it increases carbon emissions. “The agency’s hands are tied,” Cassidy says. “Congress needs to act to reform this broken policy.”
“It’s our role to articulate to lawmakers the impact to consumers,” says David Kennedy of BoatUS. “And one of the messages that we continue to articulate to boaters is that they need to be very careful about E15. If we’ve got more blender pumps out there, it’s more likely” that customers will get traces of E15 through shared hoses or inadvertently fill tanks with the fuel.
The EPA is legally obligated to set the volume mandates of biofuels required in the overall fuel supply by Nov. 30 each year for the following year. “The EPA has failed time and time again to uphold their obligation to lead the way in implementing the RFS by setting annual ethanol mandates,” Vasilaros has said. “The agency is grossly behind its deadlines, further proving that it is Congress who must act to reform the broken RFS,” Vasilaros said in April after the EPA settled an oil industry lawsuit and agreed to set mandates for this year and last year by Nov. 30.
In March, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015, which would eliminate only the corn ethanol mandate portion of the RFS. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has introduced the Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act (H.R. 1461) and the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act (H.R. 1462). Marine industry leaders support all three measures.
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.