By Ann Claassen and Eli Hopson

On May 29, EPA took long-awaited action on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), with the unusual step of proposing standards for several years at once. EPA is reproposing the 2014 RFS—its original proposal of November 2013 having been heavily criticized—and is proposing, for the first time, the 2015 and 2016 RFSs. EPA proposes to set the compliance levels for 2014 at the level of production that actually occurred, while recognizing that some reallocation of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) will be needed. For 2015 and 2016, EPA proposes to reduce the overall volumes of renewable fuels from those required in the Clean Air Act.

Applicable Volumes Specified in the Clean Air Act (billion ethanol-equivalent gallons)*

2014 2015 2016
Cellulosic biofuel 1.75 3.0 4.25
Biomass-based diesel ≥1.0 ≥1.0 ≥1.0
Advanced biofuel 3.75 5.5 7.25
Renewable fuel 18.15 20.5 22.25

Proposed Volume Requirements*

2014 2015 2016
Cellulosic biofuel (million gallons) 33 106 206
Biomass-based diesel (billion gallons) 1.63 1.70 1.80
Advanced biofuel (billion gallons) 2.68 2.90 3.40
Renewable fuel (billion gallons) 15.93 16.30 17.40

*All values are ethanol-equivalent on an energy content basis, except for BBD which is biodiesel-equivalent.  (Tables from EPA’s pre-publication version of the rule.)

EPA’s proposal reduces the overall volumes based in part on the blend wall—the cap on the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the fuel supply in practice— given that many vehicles in the market are limited to using blends of ethanol of 10% or less. As in the original 2014 RFS proposal, EPA is relying on its waiver authority in Clean Air Act § 211(o)(7); if made final, it will be the first time EPA has based an RFS waiver on factors affecting fuel consumption instead of limitations to fuel production.

Although the proposal increases renewable fuel production goals as desired by biofuels groups while acknowledging the blend wall concerns of oil refiners and blenders, both supporters of renewable fuels and opponents of the program have already registered objections to the proposal.

As well as the overall 2014-2016 RFS, EPA is proposing: 2014-2017 biomass-based diesel volumes; 2013-2015 compliance and attest reporting deadlines; rescission of the 2011 cellulosic biofuel volume; and amendments to clarify the scope of the algal biofuel pathway. According to the pre-publication manuscript, comments on the proposal, which will appear soon in the Federal Register, must be filed with EPA on or before July 27, 2015.