EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson granted himself a continuance last week to make his decision on whether to grant Texas Governor Rick Perry’s request for a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). As an attorney accustomed to living with deadlines, I certainly appreciate the lure of being able to grant oneself a continuance. Like many others participating in the biofuels industry, however, it is somewhat frustrating to encounter yet another delay on the policy front.
To be fair, Administrator Johnson has his work cut out for him in resolving this issue. Advocates on both sides see potentially substantial impact from a decisive ruling on the waiver. The waiver provision has been described as a pressure relief valve for the RFS. The interesting thing about this pressure valve is that no one knows what pressure the valve will withstand before it releases. Oil industry advocates would prefer a “hair trigger” type pressure release valve whereas biofuel advocates would like to see a more robust fixture.
Governor Perry’s request has some unique attributes. He actually based his request not on the RFS causing difficulty for the petroleum industry- which would have been difficult since ethanol has typically been less costly than gasoline and in ample supply- but on food and livestock supply arguments. Governor Perry’s request also precedes the ramp up period in the RFS when the real challenges will likely begin and thus his request could be viewed as an early attempt to hobble the RFS.
Let us hope that cooler heads prevail. Given the tremendous energy security and cost issues presently caused by our fossil fuel dependence, now is not the time for the EPA to start buckling on the RFS. As noted by the NBB’s CEO, Joe Jobe, "If the RFS is waived or cut in half in 2008, then the growth of all biofuels, including ‘advanced biofuels’ such as biodiesel, will be severely hindered." As Jobe and others have noted, these advanced biofuels may hold the real key to relieving the pressure on both fuel and food prices in the future.