Post image for CAFE, RFS Endanger Convenience Stores, Study Cautions

Today, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) published a study on the challenges facing the more than 120,000 U.S. convenience stores that sell motor fuel in a market increasingly shaped by the competing requirements of two federal programs: renewable fuel standard (RFS, a.k.a. the ethanol mandate) and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE).

I may have more to say about the study in a later post, but the skinny is that RFS and CAFE may whipsaw the retail fuel outlets upon which most of us depend to fill our tanks. CAFE will decrease the amount of fuel purchased and the frequency of consumer transactions at convenience stores, while the RFS will force convenience stores to make costly investments in storage tanks and blender pumps to sell increasing amounts and percentages of high-ethanol blends.

The excerpts below from NACS’s press release paint a disturbing picture on an industry caught in the regulatory cross hairs:

“RFS and CAFE policies cannot coexist without substantial changes in the retail and vehicle markets to accommodate significantly higher concentrations of renewable fuels, an unlikely scenario given that we may not even meet current requirements as they stand in 2012,” said John Eichberger, NACS vice president of government relations and the author of the new NACS whitepaper, The Future of Fuels: An Analysis of Future Energy Trends and Potential Retail Market Opportunities.

The Renewable Fuels Standard, revised by Congress as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), requires that increasing amounts of qualified renewable fuels be integrated into the motor fuels supply, culminating at a minimum of 36 billion gallons in 2022. This mandate was expected to increase renewables to approximately 20% to 25% of the overall gasoline market in 2022, about double the rate of 10.4% last year.

Meanwhile, in 2011 the Obama administration proposed new CAFE standards, which are expected to be finalized this summer, that seek to increase the average fleet fuel efficiency to an equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The cumulative effect of the two mandates is that renewable fuels will be required to represent a significantly greater share of the market than originally anticipated — perhaps as much as 40%, or four times higher than today.

“This level of renewable fuels penetration in the market will impose significant economic burdens on the retail fuels market and consumers,” said Eichberger. “To meet such a high renewable fuels concentration, it is likely that most retailers in the country will have to replace their underground storage tank systems and fuel dispensers. For the convenience industry alone, this will require a minimum infrastructure investment that will add nearly $22 billion to the cost of retailing fuels.” [And where will they get the scratch, I wonder, with CAFE depressing motor fuel demand and sales?]

Even after this enormous infrastructure investment, it still may be impossible to satisfy the RFS, considering that only one in six consumers will drive vehicles capable of running on the mandated fuels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects only 16% of on-road vehicles in 2022 will be flexible fuel vehicles.

“Unless something dramatic happens, we will hit the ‘blend wall’ within the next two years and will not be able to meet RFS requirements. This will trigger massive fines throughout the petroleum distribution system that will increase the cost to sell motor fuels,” said Eichberger.

An industry expert explains the problem to me as follows: [click to continue…]

Post image for House Committee Opens New Front in Fuel Economy Battle

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would block EPA from using any funds to:

  • Develop greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new motor vehicles and vehicle engines manufactured after the 2016 model year; and
  • Consider or grant a Clean Air Act waiver allowing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to establish GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles and vehicle engines manufactured after the 2016 model year. 

Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, a firm providing political and policy risk analysis to institutional investors, rightly notes that the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio), could “shift the debate over fuel economy standards and pressure the administration to soften its 56.2 mpg target floated two weeks ago.” In addition, the measure “would slice two of the three currently-involved agencies [EPA and CARB] out of the rule-making loop,” leaving fuel economy regulation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “the one agency seen as ‘most reasonable’ by industry and other observers.” 

Capital Alpha reckons the measure “has a 25% chance of enactment into law this year.” If enacted as part of the one-year EPA funding bill, the measure would expire on September 30, 2012. “However,” says Capital Alpha, “should it make it into law, opponents would be hard-pressed to strip it out in future years.” An exciting prospect for liberty-loving Americans! [click to continue…]

Post image for EPA Greenhouse Gas/NHTSA Fuel Economy Standards: ‘Harmonized and Consistent’?

This post updates my June 14 post on the mantra intoned by EPA, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that EPA/CARB’s greenhouse gas (GHG) motor vehicle emission standards are “harmonized and consistent” with NHTSA’s fuel economy standards.

EPA Associate Administrator David McIntosh recently sent written responses to questions from House Energy and Commerce Committee members following up on a May 5, 2011 hearing entitled “The American Energy Initiative.”

In a nutshell, EPA defines “harmonized and consistent” as “whatever we say it is.” [click to continue…]

Post image for California Air Board Boasts Its GHG Standards Save More Fuel than DOT’s Fuel Economy Standards — But Denies GHG Standards Are Fuel Economy Standards. Huh?

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) boasts that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards save more fuel than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards – but denies that GHG standards are fuel economy standards. Huh?

Well, of course, CARB denies it, because the Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA) prohibits states from adopting laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy.

But CARB has to trumpet the fuel savings from its GHG standards to attack H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act. H.R. 910, says CARB, would make America more dependent on foreign oil by prohibiting CARB and EPA from adopting tougher GHG standards.

H.R. 910 opponents talk as if policymaking were a game in which the regulatory option with the biggest fuel savings wins. By that criterion, why not just let EPA and CARB impose a de facto 100 mpg CAFE standard and declare America to be “energy independent”?

If Congress thinks NHTSA’s standards don’t go far enough, there is a simple fix. Pass a law! What H.R. 910 opponents want is for EPA and CARB to legislate in lieu of Congress. That is neither lawful nor constitutional. [click to continue…]

Post image for What Should Drive Fuel Efficiency?

What should drive fuel efficiency? Select the answer you think is correct: 

(a) Government;

(b) Markets; or

(c) Please pass the sweet and sour shrimp.

If you chose (a), then go straight to (Season 10) and watch my favorite South Park episode, “Smug Alert.”

If you chose (c), then you’re on your way to a promising career as a diplomat.

Today, on National Journal’s energy blog, I explain why the correct answer is (b).

Post image for Fuel Economy Mandates and Dumb Public Surveys

Last week the Consumer Federation of America issued another of those consumer “surveys” supposedly showing that the public solidly supports higher energy efficiency standards.  The previous one in this series was a Federation survey in March of alleged consumer demand for more stringent home appliance standards.  Even though affordable top-loading washers have pretty much been ruined by existing federal regulations, the March survey “found” that consumers wanted even tougher regs. The Federation’s trick: just ask pie-in-the-sky questions that portray these mandates as win-win situations.  Never suggest that the mandates mess up appliance performance, even when the evidence is staring you in the face.

The topic of last week’s survey was autos and fuel economy standards.  The Federation dressed its report up in the usual language of “ending our addiction to oil”.  But if you think oil is addictive, are you really fighting that addiction by squeezing more miles out of every gallon? Doesn’t that make oil even more addictive?

[click to continue…]

Richard Morrison, Jeremy Lott and the American Spectator’s Joseph Lawler assemble to bring you Episode 77 of the LibertyWeek podcast. We talk about Myron Ebell’s recent global warming debate during the Detroit Auto Show and the future of cap and trade in Congress. Segment starts approx. 12:30 into the show.