I presented an overview of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) cellulosic biofuel waivers in a January 2015 blog. Recently, EPA promulgated RFS rules for 2014-2016 (80 FR 77420; 12/14/15) and they included cellulosic biofuel waivers for 2014 – 2016. So it is time for an update.
Recall that Congress established the mandate for cellulosic biofuels in the RFS provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). However, more than 90 percent of the statutory cellulosic biofuel volume has been waived:
RFS Cellulosic Biofuel (million ethanol-equivalent gallons)
Note: “initial” in the column title above means promulgated, not proposed. For 2011-2013, the revised cellulosic biofuel requirements (adjusted after the year ended) were much lower than the initial promulgated volumes.
In December 2015, EPA rescinded its cellulosic biofuel standard for 2011 (see 80 FR 77508; 12/14/15).
On January 25, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the cellulosic biofuel portion of EPA’s 2012 RFS rule.
For 2013, EPA was high by 5 million gallons even though the rule for 2013 was promulgated in August 2013. Yes, the Agency promulgated 6.0 million gallons for 2013 in August 2013 and the actual for 2013 was less than 1 million gallons. In May 2014, the Agency reduced the RFS cellulosic biofuel requirement for 2013 by 87 percent, from 6.0 million to 810,185. This regulatory revision increased the waiver to over 99 percent.
This table shows a poor EPA track record for 2011, 2012 and 2013 (the Agency was high by 5-10 million between the initial and revised regulatory requirements). The Energy Information Administration (EIA) also shares this poor track record for short-term cellulosic biofuel volume projections (see EIA’s Biofuels Issues and Trends, October 2012, Table 3, page 21).
What happened for 2014? For 2014, EPA insured that the initial regulatory requirement and actual supply were identical by waiting until December 2015 for each. EPA promulgated its final rule for 2014 in December 2015. As a result, EPA was accurate (although quite late – recall that the final rule for 2014 was due by November 30, 2013 by statute).
EPA tried to continue its accuracy track record by promulgating 2015 in December 2015. However, this regulatory action was again late (the final rule for 2015 was due by November 30, 2014 by statute). The Agency returned to the statutory rulemaking schedule and promulgated the RFS rules for 2016 before 2016 started.
Note that the increase in the supply of cellulosic biofuels after 2013 is due to the goalposts being moved in 2014 (see my blog dated August 18, 2015). Even then, the cellulosic biofuel waivers for 2015 and 2016 are still very substantial (well over 90 percent).
Yes, Congress got carried away in 2007 when it passed EISA. Look at future EISA RFS cellulosic biofuel targets in the table above – Congress really got carried away to the tune of 1.25 – 3.0 billion gallons/year of growth after 2014.