The current year is already half gone and the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t proposed Renewable Fuel Standard volumes yet.
News reports indicate that oil refiners are demanding the Biden administration slash RFS volumes below what the law requires. The reports offer a number of theories for the delay. Whatever the reason, the delay itself will accomplish the oil refiners’ goal.
The delay creates uncertainty for small biodiesel producers who are struggling to secure market space. Without the RFS, small rural communities will lose jobs and economic opportunity. And, American’s will lose access to cleaner, low-carbon fuels.
Undermining the Renewable Fuel Standard as a favor to the oil industry would be unthinkable. The Biden administration and the EPA can move quickly to get the program on track as part of the nation’s plan to cut carbon.
The RFS has driven reductions in the nation’s carbon emissions over the past decade by helping the advanced biofuel industry emerge and grow. Since 2010, America’s use of biodiesel and renewable diesel – the most widely available advanced biofuels – has grown from a few hundred million gallons to 3 billion gallons a year. Biodiesel reduces carbon emissions by an average 74%. With the growth in advanced biofuel use, the nation has saved 144 million tons of carbon emissions over the past decade. And the RFS can do even more over the coming decade.
Federal leadership on clean renewable fuels helps all states, not just the agricultural Midwest where many renewable fuels production plant are the mainstays of rural economies. For example, since the start of California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard program in 2011, the state has reduced transportation carbon emissions by 77 million metric tons – a 7.4% reduction from 2005 levels. Renewable diesel and biodiesel contributed more than 40% of those reductions. Those carbon savings today set an important foundation for a low-carbon future, but still rely on federal leadership.
Many Democrats – including Joe Biden – and many Midwest Republicans strongly condemned the Trump administration’s mishandling of the RFS. During the previous four years, EPA administrators held the RFS at a standstill, refusing to allow growth of advanced biofuels. On top of that, they rolled back advanced biofuel volumes by granting exemptions to nearly every big oil company that asked. And finally, the previous EPA decided to simply not issue annual rules for 2021, leaving as big a mess as possible for the Biden administration.
As a presidential candidate last August, Joe Biden also stated clearly that “the Renewable Fuel Standard marks our bond with our farmers and our commitment to a thriving rural economy.” In last year’s election, the Democratic Party's official campaign platform promised to “grow the nation’s biofuels manufacturing sector, including by strengthening the Renewable Fuel Standard.” I’m certain the president and congressional Democrats will take actions that meet those pledges.
We need to strengthen and continue building the Renewable Fuels industry.
The development of an advanced biofuels industry is a success we should celebrate. And, putting the RFS back on track – with sustainable, achievable growth for low-carbon, advanced biofuels – is as an important part of the Biden administration’s plan to address climate change. Pushing further growth for advanced biofuels will help more Americans afford cleaner fuels.
Dorgan served as a Democratic senator and congressman from North Dakota for 30 years and was one of the authors of the Renewable Fuels Standard. He is now a co-chair of Arent Fox’s government relations practice and a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.