Why the Wait on Renewable Fuels?
Our government's policy on renewable fuels has been clear for a decade, since the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) became law in 2005 with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and the signature of President George W. Bush. These standards required fuel makers to blend renewables into the products they sold. "Believe in it, invest in it, and count on it!" That's what the American people heard from both political parties.
I, along with Senators Jim Talent and Tim Johnson, offered the legislation creating the RFS. President Obama, while serving in the Senate, was also a leader in the cause: He helped strengthen standards for biodiesel in legislation he wrote in 2007 with former Republican senator Dick Lugar.
But late last year, while the EPA was working to establish the 2014 guidelines for the RFS, a tentative proposal leaked that would reduce previously established targets for renewable fuels. To this day -- months after a final decision should have been made -- the administration has not signaled what it intends to do other than to vaguely suggest that the initial proposal will be strengthened.
The proposal was met with aggressive criticism, not just from the renewable-fuels industry but also from lawmakers in both parties who knew that the proposal threatened thousands of jobs in their states. Just before the August congressional recess, ten senators pushed back, asking the White House why it would propose cutting volumes of biodiesel, the most successful EPA-designated advanced biofuel. This is a renewable fuel that the EPA says reduces carbon emissions by more than 50 percent relative to conventional diesel.
In the meantime, the administration's delays have spooked investment and raised questions about the government's commitment to renewable energy, particularly advanced biofuels. A survey by the National Biodiesel Board released in May showed that 78 percent of the nation's biodiesel producers have cut back production and more than half have been forced to idle production or shut down plants altogether.
And, contrary to a popular belief, backing a strong renewable-fuels industry is in no way at odds with supporting continued growth in domestic oil production. The new oil-and-gas discoveries and increased production here at home are good news for our country. But so is the work we've done to build a renewable-fuels industry, which provides fuel diversity and environmental benefits while strengthening our energy security and national security.
I am hopeful that the administration will tell the world that America's goals have not changed and will make the adjustments necessary to further America’s leadership in the renewable fuels industry.
Byron Dorgan represented North Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1992 to 2011 and in the U.S. House from 1981 to 1992. He now is senior policy adviser at Arent Fox, whose clients include the National Biodiesel Board.