The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it could finalize the requirements for the 2014 renewable fuel standard (RFS) by late June. The RFS tells refiners how much ethanol they are legally obligated to blend into fuel supplies this year.
This timeline is not good enough.
After all, by late June the year is already half over. It’s like informing taxpayers in June what their tax rates will be for the full year, giving them just half the year remaining to adjust their withholding accordingly.
Law provides clear deadlines
Whatever other problems the RFS has (and I have blogged about those before), one thing is clear: EPA is required to finalize the numbers for any year by November 30 before that year begins. That’s common sense as well as common fairness.
This isn’t a one-time problem: For 2013, EPA failed to issue the final ethanol blending requirements until last August. By that point, more than 60 percent of 2013 had elapsed.
Earlier today, the Government Accounting Office issued a report noting that EPA’s delay in issuing annual targets “contributes to industry uncertainty” and drives up compliance costs.
Backtracking on blend wall relief?
Even worse than these delays is that EPA seems to be hinting it may backtrack on the proposed fix it offered last year to the so-called E10 “blend wall” – what industry calls the point at which the volume of renewable fuels mandated by EPA exceeds the volume that can be practically blended into gasoline and diesel.
When EPA issued its proposed RFS numbers for 2014 in November – about the time it should have been issuing final numbers – it offered a bit of temporary good sense.
At the time, EPA suggested that the agency wouldn’t force refiners in 2014 to blend ethanol volumes exceeding 10 percent into the motor fuels they produce. Car manufacturers generally will not warrant vehicles that are not designed to use ethanol in volumes over 10 percent.
Moreover, the majority of the nation’s retail fuels infrastructure is not certified to handle higher ethanol blends. So some relief from a government mandate forcing refiners to make and distribute products that many think are unwise seemed like a good thing. That’s why EPA’s recent suggestion that it may curtail that relief is so discouraging.
Bad law, little benefit
The RFS is bad law that hurts businesses and hurts consumers, with no discernible economic or environmental benefit.
The fact that the federal government can’t hold itself accountable and administer the RFS by sticking to legally prescribed deadlines is further evidence that the whole program should be scrapped.