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October 22, 2015

Ethanol Mandates under RFS and EPA’s Lifecycle GHG Analysis


In a settlement with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to set renewable fuel obligations for calendar years 2014 and 2015 by November 30, 2015, under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  The RFS requires annual increases in the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into the total volume of gasoline refined and consumed in the U.S. 

A current TV ad featured on the Smarter Fuel Future Coalition’s website and sponsored by The American Council for Capital Formation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the National Council of Chain Restaurants makes the following statements:  ‘‘Mandating corn for ethanol doubles greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline over 30 years,’’ and ‘‘Mounting scientific evidence has revealed the inconvenient truth: Increasing ethanol mandates can actually make things worse.’’  This ramping up of press on anti-ethanol mandates is not surprising given the upcoming deadline.

EPA, the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), and other scientists and federal regulators have been studying carbon emissions from ethanol for many years.  In 2007, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), through the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model developed by Dr. Michael Wang, Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation, determined that ethanol produced at newer plants, using natural gas or biogas, would have emissions 20 percent lower than gasoline in the ethanol brochure Ethanol:  The Complete Energy Lifecycle Picture: ‘‘[T]he preponderance of the recent studies show that ethanol has a positive net fossil energy value,’’ meaning its use results in lower emissions. 

EPA’s 2010 regulatory announcement, EPA Lifecycle Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Renewable Fuels, stated that EPA is making threshold determinations based on a methodology that includes an analysis of the full lifecycle of various fuels, including emissions from international land-use changes resulting from increased biofuel demand.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) requires EPA to analyze lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from increased renewable fuels use as part of revisions to the RFS program.  The regulatory purpose of EPA’s lifecycle GHG emissions analysis, therefore, was to determine whether renewable fuels produced under varying conditions meet the GHG thresholds for the different categories of renewable fuel. 

In 2011, a Friends of the Earth report entitled Corn Ethanol and Climate Change:  How the Renewable Fuel Standard mandates the consumption of biofuels that contribute to climate change stated that “scientific analysis … proves that the net greenhouse gas impact of corn ethanol is much worse than that of gasoline.”  It also states, however, that “EPA’s final analysis of the [RFS] presents many different hypothetical emission scenarios for corn ethanol that may or may not achieve reductions in greenhouse gases in the future.” 

In several letters issued this year from EPA to renewable fuel producers in response to their “Efficient Producer” petitions to approve a new pathway for the generation of renewable fuels under the RFS program for the production of non-grandfathered ethanol, EPA stated that its analysis indicated that the ethanol/corn ethanol produced would result in “at least a 20 percent GHG emissions reduction compared to the baseline lifecycle GHG emissions,” the threshold for lifecycle GHG emissions for any renewable fuel produced at new facilities under EISA. 

The Biobased and Renewable Advocacy Group’s (BRAG®) recent Biobased Products Blog post, EPA’s Office of Inspector General Orders New Ethanol Emissions Study, discusses EPA’s Office of Inspector General’s plans to begin preliminary research on the lifecycle impacts of EPA’s RFS.  It is unclear, however, whether this study will affect EPA’s renewable fuel obligations expected to be set at the end of November.

More information on RFS issues is available on BRAG’s website under topic “RFS.”