Conflicting Motor Fuel Standards Negatively Impact Environment, Lack Sufficient Scientific Foundation

Nov 3, 2011

Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to examine motor fuel standards currently in place and under consideration.  Witnesses discussed the scientific foundation for such standards and their inherent conflicts and unintended consequences for the United States’ motor fuel supply. 

In an effort to prevent environmental degradation from increased volumes of biofuels mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and to accommodate this expanded production, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pursuing several regulatory approaches that threaten to raise the price of fuel and needlessly damage private property.  EPA’s agenda includes Tier 3 rules on vehicle tailpipes as well as sulfur content and volatility in fuels, changes to EPA’s certification fuel, and the granting of a partial waiver for the use of mid-level ethanol blends containing 15 percent ethanol (E15).   

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) said that “whether through government handouts, as in the case of Solyndra, or through heavy-handed fuel mandates, as in the case of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the picking of energy winners and losers by government fiat is an exercise in futility destined to fail miserably.”  Further, Harris said that “much of the science supported and used as the basis for new regulations is done behind a veil of secrecy, contravening this Administration’s promises of transparency.”

Dr. Ingrid Burke co-chaired a National Research Council committee that projected significant difficulties in meeting RFS biofuel requirements.  Dr. Burke noted that increasing the amount of biofuel in gasoline would also have a negative environmental impact, saying,“Production and use of ethanol results in higher concentrations of such pollutants affecting air quality as volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxides, particulate matter, and ammonia than gasoline on a national average.”

Despite the failure of EPA to conduct a Congressionally-mandated study of the environmental consequences of the expanded RFS, EPA has signaled its intentions to move forward with Tier 3 standards, which could raise compliance costs and ultimately force consumers to pay for the negative effects of higher ethanol blends.  Representing the American Petroleum Institute (API), Mr. Bob Greco, observed that “US refiners are now facing a blizzard of significant and potentially very costly additional regulations that may take effect over the next five years.”  Mr. Greco said that API believes that “further sulfur and vapor pressure reductions would not produce benefits enough to justify the potentially onerous costs.  These could include higher fuel manufacturing costs, refinery closures, lost jobs, increased emissions, and increased product imports.”

Mr. David Hilbert, an engineer from Mercury Marine, discussed the findings of a recent study issued by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that demonstrated the disastrous results of misfueling with E15. “This study showed how misfueling marine engines currently in use with E15 may cause a variety of issues for owners and can lead to premature engine failure,” Hilbert said.  Several witnesses also discussed the potential of advanced and drop-in biofuels to compete with corn ethanol, while pointing out a number of regulatory impediments that could stymie their widespread adoption.

The following witnesses testified before the Committee:
Mr. Brendan Williams, Senior Director of Advocacy, National Petrochemical & Refiners Association

Dr. Ingrid Burke, Director, Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming, and Co-Chair, National Research Council Committee on Economic and Environmental Impacts of Increasing Biofuels Production

Ms. Margo Oge, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Dr. Jay Kesan, Professor and H. Ross & Helen Workman Research Scholar and Program leader of the Biofuel Law & Regulation Program, Energy Biosciences Institute, University of Illinois College of Law

Mr. Bob Greco, Group Director, Downstream and Industry Operations, American Petroleum Institute

Mr. David Hilbert, Thermodynamic Development Engineer, Mercury Marine

Mr. Jack Huttner, Executive Vice President, Commercial and Public Affairs, Gevo, Inc.