Renewable fuel standard needs to be modified, not repealed

October 15, 2013 by Phil Ciciora, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

( —Congress should minimally modify – and not, as petroleum-related interests have increasingly lobbied for, repeal – the Renewable Fuel Standard, the most comprehensive renewable energy policy in the U.S., according to a new paper from two University of Illinois researchers.

In the study, U. of I. law professor Jay P. Kesan and Timothy A. Slating, a regulatory associate with the Energy Biosciences Institute, argue that RFS mandates merely ought to be adjusted to reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities.

"The RFS is the first and only federal policy that directly mandates the use of in the worthwhile effort to displace the use of fossil fuels for our energy needs," said Kesan, who also is the principal investigator for the Biofuel Law and Regulation project at the institute.

"As with any pioneering regulatory regime, unforeseen implementation issues will arise," Kesan said. "But this does not justify throwing out the baby with the bath water. Every effort should be made to keep the RFS in place, but efforts should also be made to revise its regulatory regime to make it operate as efficiently as possible."

In the paper, Kesan and Slating contend that the RFS can serve as a "model policy instrument" for the federal support of all types of socially beneficial renewable energy technologies.

"By mandating a market for emerging biofuels, it sends a clear signal that if they are produced, they will be effectively commercialized," said Slating, who also is an adjunct professor in the law school. "This, in turn, provides the necessary certainty to free up credit constraints and incentivize investment in the socially beneficial biofuels industry. Additionally, it does so with very little impact on the federal budget because regulated parties bear its costs."

"While the federal government has traditionally incentivized renewable energy development through tax credits and funding R&D grants, these approaches are more costly than simply mandating a market," said Kesan, who also holds U. of I. appointments in the College of Business, the Institute for Genomic Biology, the department of electrical and computer engineering, and the department of agricultural and consumer economics.

The researchers also contend that the biofuel categories of the RFS ought to be expanded to encompass all emerging biofuel technologies, as well as having its biomass sourcing constraints relaxed.

But while the current RFS policy is by no means flawless, and some of the current implementation issues would necessitate statutory changes, the authors say it would be more efficient for these changes to be made by the Environmental Protection Agency, as opposed to Congress.

"We recommend that Congress simply amend the RFS' statutory provisions to grant the EPA the authority to address its implementation issues via the regulatory rulemaking process," Kesan said. "For example, the RFS's volumetric mandates need to be adjusted to reflect current biofuel production realities. But since Congress has demonstrated an inability to properly set these mandates in the past, it would be more efficient for the EPA to set the RFS mandates for future years through a formal rulemaking process with input from all affected stakeholders."

"It's clearly a step in the right direction that the EPA has finally initiated rulemaking to address the issue of RIN fraud and help promote liquidity in the RIN market," Slating said. RIN stands for renewable identification number, a number assigned to a given amount of biofuel by the EPA so that its production, use and trading can be tracked.

Although the biggest issue with traditional biofuels usually can be reduced to the food vs. fuel argument, the researchers stress that if the RFS is successful in achieving its goals, it will usher in the use of emerging biofuels that will have significantly less impact on food-related markets.

"The ultimate goal of the RFS is to incentivize the increased commercialization of second-generation biofuels, such as cellulosic biofuels that do not rely on food-related feedstocks for their production," Slating said. "But in order to efficiently accomplish this goal, the RFS also must continue to incentivize the use of first-generation biofuels like corn ethanol."

"In the short-term, if any food vs. fuel tradeoffs result from the RFS' implementation, they will likely be minimal and probably justified in order to effectuate the long-term goal of facilitating the widespread adoption of second-generation biofuels."

Kesan and Slating's study also notes that the RFS has only been fully implemented in its current form for three years, and legislatively revising it in an overly reactionary manner would be ill advised at this point.

"Stakeholders and markets must be given time to adjust to the existing regime before serious and informed discussion about significantly altering the RFS, beyond what we propose, can be had," Kesan said. "Likewise, you've got to allow some time for the maturation of this pioneering and socially beneficial renewable energy policy."

The research will be published in a forthcoming issue of the New York University Environmental Law Journal.

Explore further: Study: Regulatory hurdles hinder biofuels market

More information: The paper, "The Renewable Fuel Standard 3.0?: Moving Forward with the Federal Biofuel Mandate," is available online: … ?abstract_id=2141862

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1.8 / 5 (16) Oct 15, 2013
Corn ethanol is dumb and always has been.
The only biofuels that hold hope are algae and those that convert waste.
Of course if the issue is to create a free-market in transportation fuels that might I propose mandating multi-fuel engines that can use supplemental hydrogen gas or natural gas.
1.7 / 5 (12) Oct 15, 2013
Changing the standard will not change the physical and chemical facts: ethanol absorbs water (right out of the air!), and water mixed with fuel corrodes engines.
1.3 / 5 (13) Oct 15, 2013
Kill ethanol. It's a great example of fantastically dumb liberal DC thinking.
3.3 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2013
"Given the fact, that the the U.S. agriculture consumes 17 percent of the country's total fossil fuel use, I'd say, that the Americans are just a plain idiots" - Teech2

Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding....

Give that man a prize.
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 15, 2013
"fantastically dumb liberal DC thinking." - PussyTard

Adding alcohol to gasoline has saved the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.

Republicans hate that.

1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 20, 2013
"U. of I. law professor Jay P. Kesan and Timothy A. Slating, a regulatory associate with the Energy Biosciences Institute, argue that RFS mandates merely ought to be adjusted to reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities."

In such a case why have regulations? But these professors (earning a living in the industry) then contradict themselves arguing for a mandated market: ""While the federal government has traditionally incentivized renewable energy development through tax credits and funding R&D grants, these approaches are more costly than simply mandating a market,"

Thus, we get this gobbledegook argument to use government force to create a market forcing consumers to use biofuels, whether they are economically beneficial or not.

A free market is much simpler and more economically sound. If such biofuels are beneficial, no government force is needed to create a market for their use, and people will voluntarily bring it to market and use it as well.

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