EPA Denies RFS Waiver Petitions

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 16, 2012 — EPA administrator Lisa Jackson denied petitions from seven governors today to waive the biofuel blending requirements established by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The petitions asked Jackson to suspend all or part of the 13.8-billion-gallon biofuel blending target for 2013.

Nearly all commercial biofuel produced in the United States today is ethanol made from corn. Currently, about 4.7 billion bushels – or 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop – is consumed by ethanol manufacture. The RFS, combined with the worst drought in the Midwest in 50 years, has pushed corn prices to record highs, which has wreaked havoc on livestock producers, who use corn as animal feed. The Clean Air Act authorizes Jackson to waive the RFS blending targets for one year if those requirements would cause “severe harm” to the economy of a State, a region, or the United States.

“The RFS, combined with the drought, is obviously a ‘perfect storm’ imposing severe harm on major agricultural industries in several states,” said CEI Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis. “But the EPA stacked the decks against petitioners, establishing a burden of proof that was virtually impossible to meet.”

The agency’s Aug. 30 request for comment indicated petitioners would have to show the “RFS itself” caused the severe harm and was not merely a “contributing” factor. In addition, it said petitioners would have to show waiving the RFS would be a “remedy” for the hardship facing livestock producers.

“These decision criteria are ridiculous,” said Lewis. “The Clean Air Act does not require the EPA to don analytical blinkers and ignore other factors that, in combination with the RFS, cause severe harm, nor does it say any waiver granted must be some kind of silver bullet.

“Jackson’s rejection of the waiver petitions exposes the RFS as an arbitrary, inflexible system that provides corporate welfare to corn farmers at the expense of livestock producers, consumers and hungry people in developing countries. The EPA’s decision should build support for RFS reform – or repeal.”

In fact, hungry people in developing countries suffer significantly from this decision. Diverting ethanol to biofuel reduces food supplies worldwide, and recent studies indicate the program contributes to 200,000 annual deaths globally. EPA’s failure to acknowledge this is the subject of an Information Quality Petition filed in 2011 by CEI and ActionAid USA.

But EPA has postponed action on the petition for more than a year. “This Administration has a series of highly-touted ‘We Can’t Wait’ initiatives, for goals ranging from industrial innovation to energy efficiency,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel at CEI. “But when it comes to reducing its complicity in world hunger, EPA apparently can wait forever.”