The Renewable Fuel Standard: the (un)holy grail of U.S. biofuel policy

Posted Jul. 9, 2012 / Posted by: Michal Rosenoer

Tomorrow morning the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold what will likely be the only Congressional hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard this year.  The hearing, titled “The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on Alternative Fuels and Vehicles, Both the Challenges and the Opportunities,” will be held by the Subcommittee on Energy and Power in room 23222 of the Rayburn House Office Building at 10am. The panel will include representatives from the National Wildlife Federation, American Petroleum Institute, and the Renewable Fuels Association, among others.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, the U.S. federal biofuels mandate, was originally enacted in 2005 and later expanded in 2007 with the goal of driving the market for sustainable biofuels. However, since then the RFS has failed to do little more than drive up environmental degradation and the price of food worldwide. Moreover, the RFS has recently come under a slew of public and Congressional criticism as several instances of fraud have arisen around its compliance system.

The RFS is currently serving as a de facto mandate for corn ethanol, a dirty and dangerous biofuel that causes more greenhouse gas pollution than gasoline. A recent National Academy of Sciences report shows that the despite the RFS’s mandate for  so-called “better biofuels,” the policy is unlikely to ever support anything but biofuels like corn ethanol and other first-generation, dirty biofuels. Moreover, even if the RFS does lead to a robust market for “better biofuels,” the science raises real doubts about whether these fuels could be brought to scale without posing their own massive risks to the environment as well.

Friends of the Earth, along with a diverse coalition, called for Congressional hearings on the RFS back in November of 2011. While it is not exactly the panel we had asked for, hopefully tomorrow’s hearing will explore the purported environmental benefits of  biofuels, and whether the RFS is actually the best policy to get us to a truly sustainable clean energy future. Check out our new policy brief on the RFS for more information about the policy and the risks it poses to our environment and global communities.

Renewable Fuel Standard 101 (Factsheet)

Understanding the U.S. federal biofuels mandate

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