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Everybody sues the EPA over ethanol requirements

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Photo by Lars Plougmann.

With the release of long-awaited ethanol-blending target numbers late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency managed to draw ire from both renewable fuels supporters and renewable fuels opponents. Now, almost predictably, both sides have filed lawsuits against the EPA accusing the agency of failing to do its job right.

The finalized numbers mandated a total of 18.11 billion gallons of renewable fuels for 2016 – including ethanol and biodiesel – falling short of the 22.25 billion gallons that the Renewable Fuel Standard initially envisioned, but surpassing the 17.4 billion gallons that the EPA proposed earlier in the year. The numbers also came about two years later than expected and set finalized numbers for 2014 and 2015 in retrospect.

Ethanol backers struck first, filing a lawsuit January 8, claiming that the EPA erroneously set the numbers based on demand rather than supply and that the EPA overreached in its interpretation of the RFS.

Then last week, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers also claimed the EPA used flawed methodologies in setting the most recent numbers. “Despite the agency’s best efforts, certain aspects of the final RFS rule still run afoul of the Clean Air Act,” said Chet Thompson, president of the AFPM. “This rule further confirms that the RFS program is dysfunctional and that the only real solution is full repeal by Congress.”

According to Ethanol Producer Magazine, the U.S. Court of Appeals hearing the two lawsuits has since consolidated the cases, along with suits brought by several other groups.

Lawsuits are just one legal means that some people are using in their opposition to the RFS, however. Two proposed amendments to a pending Senate energy bill propose either a modification or a complete abolition of the RFS. An amendment proposed by Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Dianne Feinstein of California, similar to a bill that they introduced last February, would keep the RFS intact, but eliminate corn as a source of the nation’s ethanol supply.

“It makes driving your car more expensive, it makes our food prices considerably more expensive, and it is actually harmful to the environment,” Toomey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Another amendment proposed by Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy – again, similar to a bill he introduced last year – would do away with the Renewable Fuel Standard altogether. Neither amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 – which is currently stalled in debate on the Senate floor – has been accepted into the text of the bill.

The Specialty Equipment Marketing Association, along with the Antique Automobile Club of America and the American Motorcyclists Association, have all gone on record to oppose blending any amount of ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply.

In the meantime, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General has been conducting a review of the RFS, specifically to look into the life-cycle impact of biofuels such as ethanol. No timeline for that review has been announced.