Tyner: Decision on RFS is statement on greenhouse gas emissions
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final rules on the volume of biofuels that must be produced from 2014 to 2016 continues the current policy thrust that biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuels, Purdue University energy economist Wally Tyner says.
"While the final numbers are not as high as the ethanol industry wanted, they move much closer to the levels in the original legislation for corn ethanol and actually exceed the mandated levels for biodiesel," Tyner said.
The EPA's final numbers on the Renewable Fuel Standards, released Nov. 30, were somewhat higher than the original May 2015 levels, especially for ethanol. While there is no explicit mandate for corn ethanol, the implied conventional biofuel level, which includes corn ethanol, went from 13.4 billion gallons to 14.05 billion for 2015, an increase of 650 million gallons, or 4.9 percent.
Similarly, the 2016 level for conventional biofuel went up 500 million gallons to 14.5 billion, or 3.6 percent, compared with the May preliminary numbers.
Total biofuel levels went from 17.4 billion gallons to 18.11 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent.
Biodiesel was considered relatively high in the May release, and it increased slightly with the EPA's new figures.
The main category that is reduced is cellulosic biofuels. Tyner said technology for them has not advanced as rapidly as hoped, and the cellulosic biofuels are still considerably more expensive than fossil fuels. He said the EPA continued its approach of mandating whatever quantity the market produces, but not more.
Tyner noted that in the period between the release of the provisional levels in May and the final release, EPA was bombarded from advocates on both sides of the issue.
"The oil industry argued that the RFS was not providing benefits, and the ethanol industry argued that the RFS was working well and achieving objectives of reducing oil imports and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
Tyner disagreed with the "additional carbon" argument against biofuels. Proponents of that position hold that there would be greenhouse gas emissions benefits only if additional carbon is sequestered. They contend that all the corn and soybeans used for biofuels would have been grown anyway and, so, there are no benefits.
"This is clearly incorrect," he said. "More corn and soybeans were grown than would have been produced without biofuels. Also, when biofuels are used, fossil fuels are not."
Tyner said most regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. EPA, California Air Resources Board and European Commission have rejected the "additional carbon" argument.