Senator Wants RFS Studies

Barrasso Asks Pruitt to Complete Required Environmental Studies on RFS Effects

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A United States senator asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study the environmental effects of ethanol. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- One day after the latest Renewable Fuel Standard volumes were made public, a federal lawmaker asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to conduct studies on whether the RFS is harming the environment.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a letter to Pruitt the agency has dropped the ball on conducting RFS analyses the agency is required to complete.

"I request that you fulfill EPA's obligation to complete studies assessing the environmental impacts of the Renewable Fuel Standard under sections 211(v) of the Clean Air Act and 204 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007," Barrasso said in the letter.

"Under section 211(v) of the Clean Air Act, EPA was required, by May 19, 2009, to study whether the RFS 'will adversely impact air quality.' To date, EPA has never completed that study. Under section 204 of EISA, EPA was required to report to Congress on the RFS' impacts to the environment and resource conservation every three years. To date, EPA has issued only one report, in December 2011."

Barrasso is chairman of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Also this week, Reuters reported that President Donald Trump is set to grant a meeting with lawmakers and others from oil-producing states to discuss their concerns about biofuel policies.

In response to Barrasso, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said in a statement to DTN the industry has nothing to hide.

"It may come as a surprise, but we agree with Sen. Barrasso that updated studies and analyses of ethanol's environmental impacts are needed," Dinneen said. "We have absolutely nothing to hide, and nothing to be afraid of. We believe EPA should complete the agency's congressionally mandated studies on the environmental impacts of the RFS, and believe the results will confirm that biofuels like ethanol offer enormous environmental benefits.

"Indeed, we would go one step further. We should also be studying the environmental impacts of gasoline, which continue to worsen as multi-national oil companies are forced to dig and drill deeper to access more marginal sources of petroleum."

In the letter to Pruitt, Barrasso said his committee has heard "increasing concerns" about how ethanol affects the environment.

"Most recently, Jonathan Lewis of the Clean Air Task Force testified that, 'According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own data, the incremental additional corn ethanol produced in response to the 2007 expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard has higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline,'" Barrasso said.

"A growing body of independent academic research has also documented the RFS' impacts on air, water and land quality, wildlife habitat, and other sensitive ecosystems," Barrasso said.

EPA's inspector general issued a report on Aug. 18, 2016, calling on the EPA to conduct the studies. The agency said it would complete one study by Dec. 31, 2017, and the other on Sept. 30, 2024.

"While I ask that you adhere to the agency's timeframe for the former, EPA's completion date for the latter is unacceptable," Barrasso said in the letter. "EPA cannot ignore the will of Congress and the requirements of the Clean Air Act for 17 years. I ask that you complete this study no later than Sept. 30, 2018."

Though unsure about Barrasso's motives for the request, Dinneen said ethanol and the RFS have benefitted the environment.

"Any objective and science-based analysis would undoubtedly show that ethanol offers clear and significant environmental benefits when compared to the fossil-based fuels it replaces," Dinneen said.

He said ethanol replaces toxic gasoline components including benzene, reduces tailpipe pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter, and "slashes" greenhouse gas emissions.

USDA data shows ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 43% compared to gasoline.

On the land-use front, EPA's release of the final RFS volumes this week included a required land-use analysis. The EPA said in 2007 that the baseline acres were 402 million in agriculture. Some studies in the past decade claim the RFS has led to expansion of plowed acres to grow feedstocks for biofuels.

However, EPA's most recent analysis shows the number of agriculture acres fell to an all-time RFS low of 376 million in 2017.

In order to meet the definition of "renewable biomass" and qualify for renewable identification numbers generation, the 2007 RFS requires renewable fuel producers to prove that feedstock used for biofuels comes from land that was actively engaged in agricultural cultivation in December 2007.

Read the Barrasso letter here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley