On August 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rulemaking establishing the 2013 volume requirements for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The Bipartisan Policy Center compiled an infographic explaining some of the major components of the rulemaking.
A variety of policies and programs have been introduced since the 1970s to promote alternatives to petroleum-based fuels for the U.S. transportation sector. One of the most significant federal programs for biomass-based fuels is the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which was first enacted with bipartisan support as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In its first phase, the RFS mandated the use of at least four billion gallons of renewable fuel in the U.S. gasoline supply by 2006 and increased to a mandate of 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 expanded on these requirements with bipartisan support, increasing the minimum quantity of biofuels to 15 billion gallons in 2015 and an additional 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. In addition, the renewable fuel volume requirements were broken down into four categories: total renewable fuels, advanced renewable fuels, biomass-based diesel, and cellulosic biofuels. To qualify in each of these categories, biofuels are required to meet a minimum lifecycle greenhouse gas threshold and use renewable biomass that complies with certain land use restrictions.
The overall energy landscape has changed significantly over the last five years. And while a lot of experience has been gained during implementation of the standard, many challenges have emerged. These challenges have raised new questions about the RFS for policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders, such as:
- With the new abundance of domestic crude oil production, to what extent has the RFS contributed to U.S. energy security?
- Given the decrease in vehicle fuel consumption, is there an adequate market and demand for mandating increased production of biofuels?
- Is the annual adjustment process of the required volumes giving appropriate signals and time for markets to react?
- Is the RFS reducing greenhouse gas emissions? How do those reductions compare to using other alternatives fuels?
- How has the RFS affected other markets, such as commodity prices like corn, beef, or chicken?
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