EPA Renewable Fuel Standard proposed ‘set’ rule raises mixed reactions in agriculture

December 8, 2022

Corn and soybean farmers are often noted, for good reason, as leaders in the production of biomass-based renewable fuel feedstocks. However, livestock producers can also provide solutions as the nation seeks to reduce dependency on imported oil and emissions of greenhouse gases.

Bryan Sievers, an Iowa farmer and co-chair for Iowa Smart Agriculture, a farmer-led work group supported by Solutions from the Land, has found ways to meet his farm’s energy needs through beef cattle, thanks, in part, to integration with crop production.

Methane produced by manure from Sievers’ 2,400-head beef cattle feedlot does not enter the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Instead, it is captured in two on-farm 970,000-gallon anaerobic digesters that, alongside food waste from nearby industry, ferments into biogas. The biogas fuels a generator that heats and electrifies the farm, and excess energy is sold to a local electric service provider. Then, leftovers from biogas production called “digestate,” which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and organic carbon, is used to fertilize the Sievers family’s 2,000 acres of crop land as well as another 1,500 acres on neighboring farms.

Sievers’ circular approach turns waste into value, offsetting input costs and creating new revenue streams while producing food, improving air quality, and providing himself and neighbors with alternatives to imported, synthetic fertilizers. You can learn more about Sievers’ and other Iowa farmers’ circular farm systems in Iowa Smart Agriculture’s recent publication, Iowa Smart Agriculture: Circles of Life, A Vision for the Future.

Sievers is a pioneer in on-farm biogas production, but, as he reviews the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Renewable Fuel Standard “set” rule, released last Thursday, he sees potential encouragement for other livestock producers to participate in biogas production.

The proposal would, for the first time, expand RFS beyond liquid transportation fuel to include biomass (largely biogas)-generated electricity to power electric vehicles. And proposed measures make biogas production easier and more economically attractive, with new allowances for digesting different organic materials together and higher values than previously anticipated on renewably generated electricity used for charging electric vehicles.

Sievers, and Solutions from the Land, also see room for improvement.

While Solutions from the Land sees the proposal as directionally correct and potentially catalyzing for the animal agriculture sector, the standards fall short in areas.

As proposed by EPA, oil refiners will be required to blend 20.82 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2023, 21.87 billion gallons in 2024, and 22.68 billion gallons in 2025. Solutions from the Land appreciates that these steady increases affirm the importance of bioenergy—and agriculture—as a pathway for improving energy efficiency, energy and national security, and environmental health. However, we believe our nation’s farmers and ranchers are capable of delivering more, especially with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which will incentivize construction and projects in renewable natural gas and biodiesel, biogas, and next-generation renewable liquid transportation fuels such as sustainable aviation fuel.

Solutions from the Land believes several provisions need upward adjustment, particularly proposed standards for biomass-based diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. EPA’s proposal woefully undercounts existing or planned biomass-based diesel production and creates no extra incentive for biomass-based diesel producers who have exceeded posted targets for biodiesel production, refiners who produce cellulosic biofuels from corn kernel fiber or make advanced biofuels from corn oil produced at ethanol wet mills.

Another area requiring careful analysis is the expansion of the program to incentivize the production of biogas by awarding of new compliance credits, electric renewable identification numbers (eRINs), to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who produce and sell electric vehicles (EVs). As proposed by EPA, only OEMs are eligible to earn eRINs. The agency did not allow biogas or electricity producers to generate credits out of concerns over complexity, fraud and data privacy of such a crediting system. EPA has outlined alternative approaches to generating eRINs and all need to be analyzed closely to ensure they do not create unintended consequences or compromise the integrity of liquid transportation fuel RINs. 

How to Comment

The public is invited to submit comments on EPA’s proposal by Feb. 10, 2023. Comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2021-0427, may be submitted by the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov (preferred method)
    • Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • E-mail: a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov.
    • Include Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2021- 0427 in the subject line of the message.
  • Mail: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Docket Center, Air Docket, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460.

For the full EPA public comment policy, information about CBI or multimedia submissions, and general guidance on making effective comments, please visit www.epa.gov/dockets/commenting-epa-dockets.

In the coming weeks, Solutions from the Land will be submitting comments on the proposed standards. We will also be backing important parallel legislative measures to further expand renewable energy production, including the passage of the Next Generation Fuels Act and recently introduced legislation to allow for the year-round sale of E15 fuel blends. We invite and encourage all partners to share your views on the proposed RFS set rule and other measures which can, if properly designed, enable the full potential of agricultural clean energy solutions to be realized. 

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