Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) is a Washington, D.C., law firm providing biobased and renewable chemical product stakeholders unparalleled experience, judgment, and excellence in bringing innovative products to market.

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 9, 2018, during a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he will order the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expand its sales of corn ethanol. This action, which farmers across the U.S. have been waiting for, will allow for year-round sales of 15 percent biofuels (E15) ethanol blends. Currently, E15 sales are restricted during the summer months in certain states, limiting the expansion of the market space for biofuels. Well received by many in the industry, the announcement was particularly appreciated by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) member, which applauded President Trump’s decision in a press release. Brent Erikson, BIO’s Executive Vice President, emphasized in his statement that “[a]llowing E15 to be sold year-round will help unleash the potential of cellulosic biofuels by creating more demand and marked headroom for the next generation of biofuels.”


In a settlement with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to set renewable fuel obligations for calendar years 2014 and 2015 by November 30, 2015, under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  The RFS requires annual increases in the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into the total volume of gasoline refined and consumed in the U.S. 

A current TV ad featured on the Smarter Fuel Future Coalition’s website and sponsored by The American Council for Capital Formation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the National Council of Chain Restaurants makes the following statements:  ‘‘Mandating corn for ethanol doubles greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline over 30 years,’’ and ‘‘Mounting scientific evidence has revealed the inconvenient truth: Increasing ethanol mandates can actually make things worse.’’  This ramping up of press on anti-ethanol mandates is not surprising given the upcoming deadline.

EPA, the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), and other scientists and federal regulators have been studying carbon emissions from ethanol for many years.  In 2007, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), through the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model developed by Dr. Michael Wang, Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation, determined that ethanol produced at newer plants, using natural gas or biogas, would have emissions 20 percent lower than gasoline in the ethanol brochure Ethanol:  The Complete Energy Lifecycle Picture: ‘‘[T]he preponderance of the recent studies show that ethanol has a positive net fossil energy value,’’ meaning its use results in lower emissions. 

EPA’s 2010 regulatory announcement, EPA Lifecycle Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Renewable Fuels, stated that EPA is making threshold determinations based on a methodology that includes an analysis of the full lifecycle of various fuels, including emissions from international land-use changes resulting from increased biofuel demand.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) requires EPA to analyze lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from increased renewable fuels use as part of revisions to the RFS program.  The regulatory purpose of EPA’s lifecycle GHG emissions analysis, therefore, was to determine whether renewable fuels produced under varying conditions meet the GHG thresholds for the different categories of renewable fuel. 

In 2011, a Friends of the Earth report entitled Corn Ethanol and Climate Change:  How the Renewable Fuel Standard mandates the consumption of biofuels that contribute to climate change stated that “scientific analysis … proves that the net greenhouse gas impact of corn ethanol is much worse than that of gasoline.”  It also states, however, that “EPA’s final analysis of the [RFS] presents many different hypothetical emission scenarios for corn ethanol that may or may not achieve reductions in greenhouse gases in the future.” 

In several letters issued this year from EPA to renewable fuel producers in response to their “Efficient Producer” petitions to approve a new pathway for the generation of renewable fuels under the RFS program for the production of non-grandfathered ethanol, EPA stated that its analysis indicated that the ethanol/corn ethanol produced would result in “at least a 20 percent GHG emissions reduction compared to the baseline lifecycle GHG emissions,” the threshold for lifecycle GHG emissions for any renewable fuel produced at new facilities under EISA. 

The Biobased and Renewable Advocacy Group’s (BRAG®) recent Biobased Products Blog post, EPA’s Office of Inspector General Orders New Ethanol Emissions Study, discusses EPA’s Office of Inspector General’s plans to begin preliminary research on the lifecycle impacts of EPA’s RFS.  It is unclear, however, whether this study will affect EPA’s renewable fuel obligations expected to be set at the end of November.

More information on RFS issues is available on BRAG’s website under topic “RFS.”




On July 15, 2014, Inside EPA reported that "the White House is examining options for reversing EPA's proposed cuts to several renewable fuel standard (RFS) production targets in order to promote biofuels that create fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than conventional fuels, informed sources say, as part of the Obama administration's broader efforts to combat climate change."

The article also quotes sources stating:
"[F]igures under discussion between administration officials and industry representatives include raising the renewable fuel target -- largely met with corn ethanol production -- from 13 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 13.5-13.6 billion gallons in the final rule; increasing the advanced biofuel target from 2.2 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 2.3-2.5 billion gallons; and raising the biomass-based diesel target from 1.28 billion gallons under the proposed rule to 1.5-1.7 billion gallons in the final rule.

"The most dramatic increase under consideration is said to be for cellulosic biofuel, which would rise from 17 million gallons in the proposed rule to 23 million gallons in the final rule, the sources say. "


Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R), Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and State Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey led an effort to send a letter to EPA requesting it to convene a field hearing in Iowa on the Agency's proposed 2014 RFS rule. The letter was signed by the entire Congressional delegation from Iowa. A copy of the letter is available online.

EPA's proposed 2014 RFS rule would reduce the 2014 statutory gallon requirements for cellulosic biofuels, advanced biofuels, and corn ethanol. Governor Branstad testified at EPA's recent hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule that it would have detrimental effects on the biofuels industry and rural economy in his state and other Midwestern states. The Iowa delegation expresses in the letter the same concern, and argues that EPA should hold a field hearing in Iowa to hear from Midwestern farmers and producers who could not attend the Virginia hearing and who would be disproportionally impacted by the proposed reductions.


On December 12, 2013, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013, which would eliminate the corn ethanol gallon requirements under the federal RFS, while leaving in place those under the law for cellulosic and advanced biofuels and biodiesel. The sponsors have argued that the RFS corn ethanol mandate, which increases to 15 billion gallons per year by 2022, should be removed to combat the recent increase in corn prices. The bill currently has eight bi-partisan co-sponsors, including Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

The corn ethanol industry has argued that the RFS has had negligible impact on corn supply and prices, and that recent increases in the price of corn are attributed to the corresponding increase in the cost of energy used to make and transport the commodity.