News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Renewable Fuel Standard: Another Hot Button Election Issue?

Fuel pump | Photo: Tate Nations/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Democrats and Republicans in D.C. battling over federal renewable energy policy isn't news, especially in the months since the Solyndra bankruptcy. But if today's session in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power is any indication, the fight over renewable electrical power policy is spreading to the issue of renewable fuels for transportation as well.

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According to a post on the political blog The Hill, the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) came up for some Solyndra-style grilling by GOP members. According to The Hill's Zack Colman, Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo even went so far as to invoke Solyndra by name, saying that both that failed solar company and mandates for renewable content in fuels signified "the absolute danger of intervention in the energy market":

"Why aren't my constituents screaming for E85 [gasoline with 15 percent ethanol by volume] if it's such a good thing?" a bellicose Pompeo asked a witness. "You're talking about a mandate."

The RFS, created when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, requires that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into U.S. gasoline and diesel supplies by 2022. The majority of the renewable fuel used today under the RFS is ethanol from corn, though corn ethanol's total contribution to the RFS is capped by law at 15 billion gallons.

Meanwhile today, the Renewable Fuels Association responded to rumors that the EPA would back off on ethanol requirements under the RFS due to fears that the year's corn crop will likely suffer from the ongoing heat wave. According to the trade website Domestic Fuel, the RFA claims the ethanol industry is already close to setting its 2012 production target of 13.2 billion gallons. Under federal law, the EPA cannot waive RFS requirements without showing that the program would cause harm, and the waiver would be subject to environmental assessment with public comment periods -- a cumbersome process the EPA is unlikely to undertake if ethanol supplies are already close to this year's target.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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