It’s been five days since the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) punted on finalizing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) numbers for 2014. For a full summary of the announcement and a synopsis of the RFS issue, click here.
To add additional context to the delay, and to get a little bit of insight into what the future might hold for the RFS, corn farmers and biofuels supporters, here are a few snippets from national media outlets who have covered the RFS over the last five days. We’ve also included some brief thoughts after each snippet.
Putting the brakes on alternative fuels
This story from the Los Angeles Times discusses how corn farmers, biofuels advocates and entrepreneurs have encountered a new opponent in their efforts to grow the market for cleaner burning and homegrown alternatives to foreign oil: the White House.
Evan Halper writes:
Yielding to pressure from oil companies, car manufacturers and even driving enthusiasts, the Obama administration is threatening to put the brakes on one of the federal government’s most ambitious efforts to ease the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels.
The proposed rollback of the 7-year-old green energy mandate known as the renewable fuel standard is alarming investors in the innovation economy and putting the administration at odds with longtime allies on the left.
It has been disappointing to see the Obama Administration not fully support the RFS, a piece of legislation that is working exactly as it was intended to work. In fact, the administration’s inaction is actually resulting in an increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
Leaders in the biofuels industry were surprised that the EPA delayed finalizing RVO numbers. Most assumed the original proposal would be slightly scaled back. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen says the efforts of corn farmers and biofuels supporters have been paying off:
“The fact that they have taken a step back tells me that all of the work that we did, all of the calls that we made, the letters that were sent, the emails that we sent to Washington to get the president to reconsider actually had the impact that you always hoped that it would.”
Dinneen’s right. Grassroots efforts such as sending over 7,000 letters to the EPA from Minnesota corn farmers and biofuels supporters made an impact. However, those grassroots efforts need to remain strong. The fight to preserve the RFS is far from over.
Today and beyond
But what about this year? Dinneen says in a separate interview that about 13.5 billion gallons of ethanol will be blended in the U.S. market in 2014. Ethanol remains in demand because its been 80 cents to $1 less expensive than gasoline for much of this year. From there, the industry will be watching RFS developments closely.
“This isn’t about 2014. This is about 2015 and 2016 and how you continue to grow the industry,” Dinneen said.
Media coverage and Big Oil talking points
Overall, media coverage of the administration’s decision to further delay the RFS has mostly been fair. However, as the debate heats up again heading into 2015, expect to see Big Oil continue to hammer home its basic (and unsubstantiated) talking points:
Here’s an example from a story in the Daily Caller:
“By failing to reduce the amount of corn ethanol blended into gasoline, the Obama administration today missed an opportunity to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mike Lavender, a policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group. “If we hope to reverse climate change, we need greenhouse gas reductions now, not in 2025, and reducing the amount of corn ethanol in gasoline is among the most effective tools at the administration’s disposal.”
Anti-hunger groups argue that the RFS has caused the global price of corn to skyrocket, which has exacerbated hunger in poor countries. It’s also caused prices for poultry, pork and other livestock to rise as well.
Here we have the Environmental Working Group, an anti-agriculture activist group that releases unscientific “reports” and compares farmers to “drunks at a bar,” being trotted out to raise questions about ethanol’s environmental benefits.
We also have a paragraph about the long dispelled myth that ethanol raise food prices. Food prices are impacted by the price of oil, not ethanol. Also, today’s corn prices are about half of what they were when the RFS was enacted in its current form in 2007.
Unfortunately, once the RFS issue is re-visited in 2015, we’ll probably see more stories that give some credibility to myths like these. That’s why it’s important that farmers and biofuels supporters continue their grassroots efforts to keep the RFS strong.