Big Ethanol suddenly pretty upset about the EPA's legal vagaries

The Big Ethanol lobby has been having a rough go of it lately, what with the Associated Press publishing a big exposé over just how decidedly not-“green” corn-based ethanol really is, followed by the Environmental Protection Agency confirming the industry’s worst fears by announcing that a rumored reduction to the Renewable Fuel Standard would indeed go forward. The industry-wide freakout over the very possibility of an RFS reduction — which will now allow refiners to ease up a bit on the amount of so-called biofuel they’re required to blend into the country’s fuel supply, rather than charging forward with the regularly scheduled increase — aptly demonstrated just how deeply the change will affect the ethanol industry’s artificially bloated market share. Now that they’re in survival-mode, they’re turning to questioning the EPA’s legal authority to even make such a move in the first place. Via Ethanol Producer Magazine (h/t RealClearEnergy):

The Renewable Fuels Association held a media teleconference Nov. 21, to address the issue of whether the U.S. EPA has the statutory authority to lower the total renewable fuel standard (RFS) numbers, as reflected in the agency’s current proposed rule for the 2014 renewable volume obligations (RVO).

The RFA has made it clear it doesn’t believe the EPA can use the so-called blend wall as justification for a more than 3 billion gallon reduction in the overall required volumes of the RFS. The agency does have specific authority to reduce the volumes required for cellulosic ethanol, and has done that previously. However, RFA believes it has overstepped itself by proposing to reduce the total volume numbers. “We don’t believe that the agency can invent authority that it does not have by virtue of the statute,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA, during the call. …

The RFA believes EPA is going beyond its authority by introducing the idea of a blend wall into a waiver provision that is focused on production and supply, not consumption. “That’s where we think that EPA has dramatically overstepped their bounds, overstepped the statute and is making a fundamental mistake,” he said

Funny — I don’t recall the ethanol lobby professing many scruples last year when the EPA was trying to prosecute oil companies for failing to comply with mandates about proper volumes of cellulosic ethanol — when the specific biofuels to which they were referring weren’t actually available in commercial quantities.

Anyhow. The EPA certainly does have a track record of, ahem, shall we say “stretching” the bounds of their authority, and the ethanol industry is pretty much correct in that it will be up to Congress to effectively undo the supply- and demand-distorting, economy-damaging influence of the RFS once and for all. While some Democrats may finally be cottoning on the fact that corn ethanol is certainly no boon for addressing climate change, lawmakers’ regional loyalties still tend to play the more powerful role in determining which way they’d vote — and you can bet that the ethanol lobby will be fighting that eventuality tooth and nail.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023