EPA Expands Biofuels Definition To Inflate Production Numbers

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Cellulosic biofuel production has been virtually non-existent, despite rosy government predictions.

To rectify that, the Environmental Protection Agency recently expanded the definition of what constitutes a cellulosic biofuel, which critics say is a political move to artificially boost production numbers.

The EPA has expanded the definition of cellulosic and advanced biofuels to include liquefied and compressed natural gas produced from biogas and landfills.

“Biogas and gas captured from landfills that six months ago didn’t count as cellulosic biofuel now qualify under EPA’s expanded definition,” Bob Greco, downstream director at the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters on a press call.

“So EPA is essentially inflating cellulosic fuel production — putting a thumb on the scale — so the numbers are more in line with their prediction of high cellulosic production this year,” Greco said. “In reality, they’ve just re-categorized an existing type of fuel, which is not adding to the amount of cellulosic biofuel that is actually available.”

API won a major legal victory in 2012 in which a federal court said the EPA could not require refiners to blend non-commercially available biofuels into gasoline. But the EPA is requiring refiners to blend 17 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel into the fuel supply for 2014, considerably higher than last year’s requirement of 810,000 gallons.

Cellulosic production in July — before the EPA’s rule change — was only 4,156 gallons. After the EPA announced its rule change in early August, production jumped to 3,492,106 — virtually all of the increase coming from natural gas biofuels.

But even with the boost from compressed and liquefied natural gas, cellulosic fuel production from the cellulose from plants is still lacking. The EPA’s expanding the definition of cellulosic biofuels did little to boost production numbers from traditional cellulosic fuel sources. More than 10 months into the year and refiners have only been able to blend 3,569,016 cellulosic gallons into the fuel supply — only about 20 percent of the required 17 million gallons for this year.

“EPA should be basing that mandate on accuracy and not trying to tip the scales in that regard,” Greco told reporters.

The EPA, however, has not yet finalized the actual biofuel mandate requirements for 2014. Refiners and other critics say it’s the Obama administration playing politics in an election year and point to the fact that the rule is on track to be nine months late this year.

“It seems the White House is focused on one goal — keeping control of the Senate after next month’s election,” Greco said. “Namely, they want to give cover to the Democrat running neck and neck with his opponent in the Iowa Senate race.”

In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is running against Republican challenger Joni Ernst in what has become a hotly contested Senate race. The RealClearPolitics average shows Ernst leading by 2.8 percentage points. This follows a trend of Ernst polling ahead of Braley for the past month.

“EPA shouldn’t use these inflated numbers to raise the cellulosic mandate for this year,” Greco said.

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