Does President Obama Support Renewable Fuels?
After more than two years of delays, the EPA announced recently that it will soon set revised standards determining how much renewable fuel is blended into our gasoline and diesel supplies in the coming years.
The decisions the EPA makes — under a policy called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — will set a critical precedent for the nation's energy policy, with the potential to shape the way we power our cars and trucks for the foreseeable future. In short, the EPA's proposal will show whether the Obama administration is truly committed to diversifying the fuels we use, or if "reducing our dependence on oil" is more of a political slogan.
The RFS is the most successful policy we have for shifting away from petroleum in the transportation sector, which accounts for more than one-fourth of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Since it was created in 2005 by a bipartisan Congress and President George W. Bush, it has delivered remarkable results. We now get about 10 percent of our gasoline supplies from conventional corn ethanol, and the next phase of the program is written to ensure we make similar progress with advanced biofuels like biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol.
In both of his campaigns for the White House, President Obama vowed to strongly support renewable fuels, particularly advanced biofuels, which by the EPA's definition reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared with petroleum fuels. In 2008, he visited biorefineries across the country and told workers he was committed to making the U.S. No. 1 in the world in renewables. More recently, EPA officials have apologized for damaging delays in implementing the RFS over the past two years, and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has said repeatedly that the administration is committed to getting the program back on track and growing America's renewable-fuels production.
These assurances are positive, and the EPA's announcement that it will propose several years of standards by June 1 is a step in the right direction. However, the only true measure of the Obama administration's commitment to renewable fuels will be in the volumes that are proposed. As the old proverb goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Will the EPA pave the way for growth that gives producers and investors the confidence they need to expand operations and that encourages the development of new technologies, as candidate Obama said? Or will the administration retreat to a weakened policy that perpetuates the status quo, with continued dependence on petroleum — much of it coming from dangerous parts of the world or from increasingly carbon-intensive and environmentally questionable sources?
The answer is critical. We have the demonstrated technology and the energy policy that finally has shown great progress toward moving our nation away from the dangerous addiction to a singular transportation fuel.
Biodiesel is a prime example of the success of the RFS. Over the last five years, biodiesel has grown from a niche fuel with a small but enthusiastic following to a commercial-scale industry that has plants in almost every state in the country. Before the administration effectively put the RFS on hold two years ago, the industry produced a record of more than 1.8 billion gallons in 2013 — or nearly 5 percent of the on-road diesel pool.
The industry did this using an increasingly diverse and abundant mix of raw materials, including recycled cooking oil, plant oils such as soybean oil, and animal fats. According to the EPA, biodiesel emits 57 percent to 86 percent less greenhouse gas than petroleum diesel. And the industry supports more than 62,000 jobs.
This is a success story, and after two years of deliberation over what to do next, the answer should be obvious. The RFS requires that advanced biofuels be sustainably grown each year, and it clearly intended growth in all categories of advanced biofuel. To do otherwise would further undermine the investors, entrepreneurs, and employees who responded to the law by building this new American energy industry. On June 1, we hope to see President Obama's commitment to renewable fuels realized with clear, sensible policy that delivers a more diverse and sustainable energy future.
Joe Jobe is CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, the U.S. trade association for the biodiesel industry.