This past summer, as parts of the Midwest faced historic droughts and farmers and ranchers struggled with the impact of failing crops, a group of governors petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) as a way to provide relief. As temperatures cool and the drought stabilizes, it’s clear that government programs to provide emergency assistance for farmers and ranchers worked as intended. Yet, the call to suspend the RFS remains.
Indeed, certain special interests are not allowing this crisis to go to waste. In a move cynical even for Washington, they are scapegoating the renewable fuels industry, attempting to use the drought and its impact as a way to undo the progress that has been made by the biofuels industry under the RFS.
The RFS opens the U.S. fuel market to alternatives to foreign petroleum by setting specific annual requirements for petroleum refiners to make first and second generation biofuels available to American consumers at the pump. It sets real-world targets for a transition to more secure domestic sources of motor fuel and it offers refiners a number of options for meeting this requirement.
Data from the Energy Information Administration and EPA clearly show that U.S. biofuel production saves consumers money at the pump, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and contributes to a cleaner environment. Indeed, we are at a critical turning point for domestic energy production in this country, and we need all forms of US transportation fuel.
Waiving the RFS, even for just one year, will destabilize advanced biofuels development for years to come. It could sideline new biorefinery construction in this growing field, not only hindering future innovation in transportation fuel that will help consumers save at the pump, but also holding back job creation. Biorefinery projects have opened in Nebraska, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota; construction is underway in Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi and New Mexico; and new projects are looking to break ground in Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin. Each of these projects represents hundreds millions of dollars in investment and economic growth, and each has already generated employment opportunities for researchers, construction and process engineers, and many others. These biorefineries create permanent employment in operations, transportation and agriculture for local communities in these states.
The EPA should not be short-sighted when it comes to the RFS. Rushing into long-term policy changes to the RFS could have an unintended economic impact on family farmers, biofuel producers and consumers. Additionally, waiving the RFS requirement could reduce the momentum that has been building toward producing other second-generation fuels made from cellulosic biomass, such as wheat straw, fast-growing trees from tree farms, switch grass, municipal solid waste and algae.
Now is the time to act rationally, not rashly. The first gallons of cellulosic biofuel have been produced in the United States this year and will help build energy security for the future, preserving our freedom to travel. Giving in to political interests and suspending the requirement will set our nation back years in the quest to end our reliance on foreign oil – and it could cause job losses at a time when the economy is in peril.
The RFS is working to drive investment in advanced biofuels. Changing course will hurt our nation now and in the future. Our Congress and the EPA should not sacrifice long-term energy security in a misguided attempt to mitigate the short-term impact of the drought.