Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittees on Energy and Oversight today held a joint hearing to examine the vast changes in today’s energy sector compared to when the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was first established by Congress in 2005, requiring transportation fuels in the U.S. be blended with biofuels at increasing volumes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages compliance with the RFS through a complex fuel credit system.

Energy Subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber (R-Texas): “In almost every category, the RFS projections are outdated and do not reflect today’s energy market.  The RFS was wrong about gas consumption – demand for gasoline is falling.  The RFS was wrong about the growth of the renewable fuel industry, particularly in terms of advanced biofuels and cellulosic fuels.  And the RFS was wrong about the impact incorporating renewable fuels would have on the environment. 

“Today, instead of a transportation fuel supply driven by consumer demand, we are stuck with our back to the ‘blend wall.’  Each year, the RFS requires higher volumes of renewable fuel than our transportation fuel supply can sustain.  Even with EPA approval to use mid-level ethanol blends like E15 and E85 in select vehicles – both of which have significant problems in terms of performance and emissions – the RFS mandate is unworkable.”

When the RFS was initially designed, the primary goals were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce crude oil imports, and accelerate the use of a variety of renewable fuels by blending biofuels into the U.S. transportation fuel supply. Witnesses today discussed the increasing costs and minimal environmental benefit of the RFS mandate.

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.): “Today’s energy market is remarkably different than what Congress projected in the RFS.  While production of renewable fuels has increased, and blended fuels are more widely available to consumers, the refining capacity and market demand for transportation biofuels projected in the RFS simply does not exist. Adding fuels with higher blends of ethanol to more gas stations around the country may help meet the RFS requirements, but it offers nothing more than a nuisance to regular Americans, as more gas stations have to sell fuels that they can’t even use. 

“And while the EPA projected significant environmental benefits from an increased use of biofuels, the fuel efficiency and lifecycle emissions for biofuels are in direct contrast to EPA’s projections. So the American people are stuck with a law mandating less-efficient fuels that are more damaging to air quality than gasoline.”

In 2007, Congress expanded the scope of the RFS by mandating the blending of over 20 billion gallons of biofuels into U.S. transportation fuels by 2015, and 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Members today asked about numerous technical challenges involved for a variety of engines and transportation fuel distribution systems as more biofuels are blended in the transportation fuel supply. The RFS creates challenges for refiners, biofuel producers, engine manufacturers, and distributors of the U.S. transportation fuel supply—eventually impacting the American consumer through the price and availability of fuels.

The “blend wall,” or ten percent ethanol, is accepted as the upper limit to the total amount of ethanol that can be blended into U.S. transportation fuel supply while still maintaining engine performance and compliance with the Clean Air Act. The blend wall is considered a significant obstacle to meeting future biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS, and is in conflict with the biofuel volumes mandated in the RFS.

The following witnesses testified today:
Mr. Matt Smorch, Vice President for Strategy and Supply, CountryMark
Dr. Jason Hill, Associate Professor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota
Mr. Chuck Red, Vice President of Fuels Development for Applied Research Associates, Inc
Mr. Tim Reid, Director of Engine Design, Mercury Marine

For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony and the archived webcast, visit the Committee’s website.