White House officials are reportedly engaged in talks with biofuel industry representatives, as well as with other fuel and food groups (the Food Manufacturing Coalition, the American Bakers Association and the American Petroleum Institute, among them) to ponder changes to the amount of corn-based ethanol and other clean fuels U.S. refiners must blend into their supplies this year.
The issues arise as the Biden administration prepares to announce in a few weeks the final Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volumes for 2020-2022. Reports out of Washington indicate that EPA submitted to the White House late last month its proposal on biofuel mandates, calling for a retroactive reduction for years 2020 and 2021, then boosting it back up for this year.
Unfortunately, reports also indicate that the Biden administration is errantly using as a consideration the potential for an increase in food prices that might come with any hike in blending requirements in these inflationary times, given the corn needed to make the nation’s principal renewable fuel – ethanol.
Pressure is being applied on the White House by food interests to restrain ethanol blends, even though reputable research has shown no connection between ethanol and food production. In fact, Average corn yields have increased by more than 25 bushels per acre since 2007, allowing farmers to grow more corn on less land and with fewer resources. This productivity growth allows farmers to meet demand across all uses of corn, including food, feed and fuel, with significant bushels to spare.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association (based on USDA data), total U.S. cropland decreased by 7 percent in the decade since the RFS was updated in 2007. A relentless growth in corn supply over the years has been driven by an ever-increasing average corn yield, as U.S. farmers have continued to grow more corn on less land. While corn acreage has fallen over the past eight decades, yield per acre has more than tripled, and continues to grow.
Oil companies are also engaged in their long-term practice of finger-pointing, castigating ethanol in this time of high prices. Those same refineries, who consistently attack biofuels because of the competition they pose to Big Oil, are earning record profits as the price of oil – the principal driver of gasoline prices – hovers near $110 per barrel. With average gas prices hovering above a record-breaking $4.50 per gallon, it needs to be understood that blending less-expensive biofuel into gasoline is helping keep the price at the pump from soaring even higher.
As White House mulls its final recommendations on where to set biofuel blending levels, the current hike in gas prices should bring with it a renewed understanding of our dependence on fossil fuels and the havoc that relationship is causing. Reinforcing the fact that our ties to petroleum products are inflicting distress on us in our day-to-day activities is a white paper released this week by the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC), which underscores public health risks posed by conventional gasoline.
Authored by Reid Detchon, an SfL senior advisor who examines climate issues for the United Nations Foundation, and Reg Modlin, a former director of regulatory affairs with Chrysler, the paper makes a compelling case that the EPA has to go beyond its past practice of regulating vehicles alone and address the composition of gasoline as well.
In “The Real Cost of Gasoline … Is To Our Health,” the authors say that enabling the use of low-carbon, high-octane fuels like those blended with ethanol in existing vehicles would achieve immediate reductions in emissions from mobile sources that are impossible to realize in any other way. The paper reinforces the SfL position that ethanol blends should be greater and more widely available than that provided under the president’s emergency order last month expanding sales of E15 to year-round.
The authors further contend that ethanol, if blended in higher concentrations like E25 and E30 (25- and 30-percent ethanol blends), could reduce by 40 percent the aromatic content of gasoline. Aromatics are elements retained in gasoline by refiners to meet desired fuel performance, but have been found to be carcinogenic.
The CFDC paper also found that blending even more ethanol into our nation’s fuels supply will not only save lives by reducing emissions and improving public health, but will also combat climate change, reduce gas prices, and increase our energy security at no extra cost. No new legislation is required. As Detchon and Modlin point out, EPA has all the authority it needs to advance requirements to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended into our nation’s fuel supply.
SfL calls on President Biden to act now to improve fuel quality. The president’s emergency expansion last month of the availability of E15 year-round, setting aside summer-time restrictions, should be considered only a start. Replacing a larger percentage of petroleum gasoline with clean biofuel can provide immediate environmental, public health, national security and economic wins. The science backing this action is sound and it’s time to carry it out.