Tiffany Stecker

Post image for EPA Cuts 2012 Cellulosic Blending Target to Zero

“U.S. EPA has altered its cellulosic biofuel requirements for 2012 — from 8.65 million gallons to zero,” today’s Climatewire reports. In January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s 2012 cellulosic biofuels standard. “As a result,” Climatewire explains, “obligated parties — oil companies required to show EPA that they blend biofuels in their fuel supply — won’t need to provide information on their compliance. The agency will submit refunds to companies that have submitted payments for 2012 cellulosic waiver credits.”

Who says there’s no justice in this world! For several years the EPA has fined refiners for not purchasing and blending ethanol made from switchgrass, wood chips, and other fibrous, non-edible plants. Refiners protested that there was no commercial cellulosic fuel to buy. The EPA argued that didn’t matter because the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is meant to be “technology forcing.” The agency thus based each year’s cellulosic target on aspirational (rather than realistic) projections of how much cellulosic fuel would be produced. It then cheerfully collected fines for all the gallons of phantom fuel refiners did not blend.

The Court held that punishing refiners for what the ethanol industry failed to do is not “technology forcing”:

EPA applies the pressure to one industry (the refiners) [citation omitted], yet it is another (the producers of cellulosic biofuel) that enjoys the requisite expertise, plant, capital and ultimate opportunity for profit. Apart from their role as captive consumers, the refiners are in no position to ensure, or even contribute to, growth in the cellulosic biofuel industry. “Do a good job, cellulosic fuel producers. If you fail, we’ll fine your customers.” Given this asymmetry in incentives, EPA’s projection is not “technology-forcing” in the same sense as other innovation-minded regulations that we have upheld.

Zeroing out the RFS cellulosic blending targets established by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) is long overdue. [click to continue…]