EPA scales back on ethanol requirements

  • Katie Colaneri

The Shell station at 12th and Vine Streets in Philadelphia offers gasoline mixed with corn-based ethanol and features a mural paying homage to corn.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

The Shell station at 12th and Vine Streets in Philadelphia offers gasoline mixed with corn-based ethanol and features a mural paying homage to corn.


The EPA is cutting back on the amount of corn-based ethanol American refineries will be required to blend into their gasoline supplies, a victory for the oil industry and lawmakers who have been fighting the mandate.
That means what you’re pumping at the gas station will have less ethanol in it, an alcohol made from distilling corn that emits less carbon dioxide than when gasoline burns.
The announcement comes just days after an Associated Press investigation showed the hidden environmental costs of the ethanol mandate, known as the “renewable fuel standard.”
More from the Wall Street Journal:

The EPA’s proposal, which will be open to 60 days of public comment before being made final in the spring of next year, trims volume requirements for all kinds of biofuels. The EPA proposed that between two billion and 2.5 billion gallons of advanced biofuels be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. That’s significantly less than the 3.75 billion gallons mandated by the 2007 law for advanced biofuels, a category that includes fuels made from things other than corn.
Those volumes would leave between 12.7 billion and 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix. The EPA’s proposal would cut ethanol volumes not just lower than what was expected for 2014, but lower than what was mandated in the last two years.

An administration official said the EPA remained committed to promoting biofuels and called the new levels “a sustainable path forward that allows for steady growth.”
The EPA says it is trying to fix a problem known as the “blend wall,” which occurs when the annual requirement mandated by Congress exceeds the amount of ethanol that can be mixed into conventional blends of gasoline.

The EPA’s decision is being praised by oil refiners who have been lobbying to eliminate the ethanol mandate altogether. Refineries can pay to opt out of the ethanol program by buying credits which Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) argues is hurting refineries like those in southeast Pennsylvania. Toomey said the reduced standards don’t go far enough.
“Even at the rolled back 2012 levels, these fuel standards are causing inflation at the grocery store, harming the environment, and amount to corporate welfare showered on a favored industry with the American people footing the bill,” he said in a press release following the announcement.
The “favored industry” Toomey is speaking of is agriculture. Corn-producing states in the Midwest have been experiencing a boom since the ethanol mandate was passed by Congress in 2007. As the Associated Press reported, that boom has resulted in significant environmental impacts like fertilizer pollution in waterways, the loss of preserved farmland and wetlands, and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
The agriculture and ethanol industries say the EPA’s decision will hurt farmers.
“They’re capitulating to the oil companies,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, told the Washington Post. “The RFS was about forcing marketplace change… and EPA is giving the oil companies a get [out] of jail free card.”
 

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