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Biofuel Advocates: EPA Renewable Fuel Rules a Mixed Bag

Biofuel groups say they wanted more incentives for alternative fuels out of the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standards. Credit: Earl53/
Biofuel groups say they wanted more incentives for alternative fuels out of the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standards. Credit: Earl53/
December 3, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. – It took two years of delays, but this week the Environmental Protection Agency finally released new renewable fuel standards for the country.

The rules include upping the amount of renewable fuel, mostly corn-based ethanol, to more than 18 billion gallons by 2016.

That will bring renewable sources up to about 10 percent of the national fuel supply.

But Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Biofuels Association, says Congress originally set a renewable fuel target of about 22 billion gallons, and that's where the EPA's numbers should have stayed.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard was meant to be a mechanism to get us out of the status quo,” he points out. “The EPA's numbers don't get us there, because they simply don't comply with what's in the law. It's pretty black and white."

A recent report sponsored by the Minnesota Biofuels Association shows the local corn ethanol industry adds more than $2 billion to the state economy.

Sustainable agriculture advocates still want to see more federal incentives for new forms of alternative fuel sources.

Johnathan Hladik, senior policy advocate for energy and climate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says the future focus should be on cellulosic ethanol. That's the type of biofuel made from materials such as wood, certain grasses or the inedible parts of plants such as wheat.

Hladik says Minnesota and other Midwestern states are uniquely positioned to lead the charge with emerging alternative fuels.

"In order to get the technology where it needs to be, we need to make sure that we have our foot on the gas pedal, and we're doing what we can to help this industry thrive, and to evolve,” he states. “Certainly this announcement could have done a better job of helping us do that."

Rudnicki says overall the EPA's new rules are a step back for the environment.

"We lose the opportunity to displace more finite, carbon intensive fossil fuel, and as a result lose the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions," he stresses.

Still, the EPA has set its new national target for cellulosic biofuels to 230 million gallons in 2016, which is almost double the amount for this year. That move eventually could spur more growth in those technologies.

Brandon Campbell/Scott Herron, Public News Service - MN