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Ethanol Industry Groups Disappointed in EPA Emissions Study

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The EPA released a new study on Friday that calls for no additional steps to mitigate adverse air-quality effects from renewable fuels. (Photo by Greg Horstmeier)

EPA's release of a so-called "anti-backsliding" study on Friday that calls for no further action to mitigate potential adverse air quality effects from renewable fuels, was met with disappointment by two ethanol industry interest groups.

The study is required by the Clean Air Act and was released as part of a consent decree from February 2019,….

The industry has been attempting for years to convince the agency to modernize the data it uses to account for renewable fuels emissions. That's because renewable fuels groups contend updated modeling on greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions shows fuels such as ethanol are far more beneficial to the environment than previously assumed.

Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Emily Skor said the agency missed "another chance to correct outdated claims which minimize contributions of U.S. biofuels to clean air and a healthy climate."

Skor said the latest USDA data shows ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 39% compared to gasoline with corn's relative carbon benefits reaching as high as 70%.

"And a vast trove of public, private, and academic studies shows how continuous innovation has allowed us to ramp up biofuel production year after year, without expanding our environmental footprint," she said in a press statement.

"The data is clear. Without ethanol, we would be rolling back the clock, with higher emissions of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and smog-forming pollutants linked to cancer, as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and reproductive damage."

Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said he was concerned about EPA's use of the MOVES modeling system.

"EPA relied on a controversial and discredited modeling system for its new anti-backsliding study, meaning the results are highly suspect and untrustworthy," he said in a statement.

In the latest study, EPA acknowledges there are "limitations and uncertainties" associated with the MOVES model and "updates and improvements have been suggested and are underway."

Prior to EPA launching the study last year, groups such as the RFA expressed the need for the agency to incorporate real-world data in its modeling.

"Unfortunately, EPA ignored the advice of RFA and air-quality experts," Cooper said.

"Instead, they proceeded to use a model and data set with known flaws and technical shortcomings. The model's questionable predictions for certain emissions result from its use of data that misrepresents the actual parameters and composition of ethanol blends."

Cooper said EPA's study results "grow even more suspect" when compared to real-world data trends that show "significant reductions in carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter, and ozone during the period of rapid expansion in ethanol use."

The RFA said since the RFS was adopted in 2005, agency data shows carbon monoxide concentrations have fallen by 31%, nitrogen dioxide is down 22%, ozone is down 13%, fine particulate matter is down 37%, and sulfur dioxide is down 81%.

"The real-world air quality data speaks for itself," Cooper said.

"In the years since ethanol went from 1% of our nation's gasoline to more than 10%, emissions of all major mobile-source pollutants have fallen. There are several reasons for that, but ethanol and the RFS certainly played a role."

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6/1/2020 | 11:28 AM CDT
EPA can’t model real world emissions if their models are not based on real world fuel properties. Secondly, when EPA run the MOVES model for this Anti-Backsliding study, they didn’t use real world fuel properties. EPA just contradicted themselves related to fuel properties in another EPA proposed rule posted just a few weeks ago. This peer reviewed study from just a month ago shows that if using real world fuel properties, ethanol helps to lower emissions. It is time to ask your government representatives that there needs to be an investigation into EPA’s manipulating of data being used against ethanol. While this study states the results didn’t trigger another rulemaking, this study is clearly going to be used against ethanol when EPA does a mandatory reset of the RFS.