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Without Immediate RFS, Biodiesel Industry Faces Uncertain Future | Commentary

By Anne Steckel The large-scale production of domestic biodiesel should be something President Barack Obama strongly supports, due to his commitment to slowing the pace of climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. After all, the EPA has certified that biodiesel can cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost 90 percent when compared to diesel made from petroleum.  

From his time in the Senate, and throughout his first-term in the White House, President Obama supported the biodiesel industry and encouraged investment in this renewable fuel. In response, American investors took up the president’s challenge and built biodiesel plants in nearly every state. They created good paying jobs and produced billions of gallons of renewable fuel that greatly reduces pollution from older diesel vehicles such as trucks and buses, which the EPA has cited as some of the nation’s worst polluters.  

However, the president’s support for biodiesel is now in question, and his administration in recent years has failed to back up his stated support with action.  

Since 2013, the EPA has failed to issue a Renewable Fuels Standard, a bipartisan federal law signed by President George W. Bush that requires the use of biodiesel in the nation’s transportation fuel supply. The RFS is the single best tool the president has to demonstrate his support for the biodiesel industry, and because it has been nearly two years with no guidelines from the administration, the industry actually shrunk in 2014, with millions of fewer gallons of biodiesel sold in the U.S.  

Biodiesel plants across the country are either shutting down or sharply reducing output. Producers are letting employees go, hurting families and communities.  

Congress has tried to urge the White House to act fast on the RFS. Last month, 33 senators, including Sen. Barbara Boxer of California — the leading Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — wrote to the EPA calling for quick action to help the biodiesel industry expand. That followed a news conference last year in which numerous senators — including Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., then assistant majority leader — held a news conference urging the same from the EPA. But despite this pressure from Capitol Hill, the EPA hasn’t budged.  

Why the White House has failed to act on biodiesel is a mystery. But make no mistake about it — oil companies are the big winners in this situation. Without an RFS, they have less competition, and refiners purchase and blend less biodiesel into the diesel fuel sold at gas stations around the nation. In other words, the lack of a RFS means our dependence on imported petroleum fuel only deepens, leading to more air pollution and weakening our energy security, national security and economic security.  

Throughout these delays, biodiesel producers have waited patiently and done everything they can to keep the industry going. The latest signals sent by the EPA indicates that the 2014, 2015 and 2016 RFS will be released sometime in the spring or summer — more than two years late. This massive delay thwarts the intent of the Congress, which passed the RFS as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act and requires the EPA to release a RFS every year — not once every three.  

But recently, the same office inside the EPA that has failed to produce a RFS did find time to release a new rule that could lead to hundreds of millions of gallons of Argentinian biodiesel flooding the U.S. market in 2015. The EPA made this change without any notice or allowing for public comment. While American biodiesel producers are firing workers, closing plants and filing for bankruptcy, the EPA compounded those woes by giving a gift to Argentinian biodiesel producers. This has created the perception throughout the industry that the administration has prioritized creating jobs in Argentina over jobs in the United States.  

The Obama administration must understand that the lack of regulatory clarity on the RFS is having real world consequences for American biodiesel producers. News stories across the country have documented the fallout in plant closures, layoffs and bankruptcies.  

Biodiesel producers can’t wait another four months or six months for a decision. They need action now. The EPA should immediately release a RFS that grows the U.S. biodiesel market and puts us back on course to achieve our goals for stimulating domestic energy production, cleaning the air and putting people to work in good-paying jobs.  

Anne Steckel is the vice president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

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