To pretty much no one’s surprise, EPA announced Friday that it is denying a petition that it reconsider its 2011 advanced cellulosic mandate. The petition was filed by API and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (now American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers).
The reason it’s not surprising is that the decision came more than a year after the petition was filed and five months after the end of 2011. Refiners really had no recourse even if EPA had granted the petition.
The rejection is symptomatic of a larger problem: EPA’s continued improper use of its waiver authority. We now know that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2010, 2011 or in the first three months of 2012 (see API’s chart, based on EPA data, below). Yet EPA continues to assert that aggressive mandates that aren’t based on actual production will somehow stimulate production of these fuels. It’s hard to argue that approach has worked so far.
It’s also worth noting that because EPA took so long reviewing this petition, we now know that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2011 – no need to make any educated guesses. So EPA, despite knowing that no cellulosic biofuels were produced in 2011, decided in mid-2012 to uphold a mandate that is not zero. Thus, refiners are required to buy compliance credits for a fuel that doesn’t exist, and that EPA knows doesn’t exist.
At some point technological advances will lead to the commercial production of such fuels. In fact, the refining industry is investing billions attempting to develop such fuels from feedstocks like algae and switch grass. But as the National Research Council concluded last fall, “Currently no commercially viable biorefineries exist for converting cellulosic biomass to fuel.”
These fuels aren’t here now, and EPA’s poor policy decisions just underscore the problems with the current unworkable mandate. Maybe they hope no one will notice when such decisions are announced the Friday before a holiday weekend.