The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not met statutory requirements related to the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to a reported released on Aug. 18 by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General.

The report said officials in EPA’s Office of Research and Development admitted to not prioritizing compliance on providing reports on the impacts of biofuels every three years to Congress.

In addition, the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation has not fulfilled the anti-backsliding requirements for RFS, which are to analyze and address any negative air quality impacts of RFS.

“The Energy Independence and Security Act established requirements for the EPA to provide objective analysis on the environmental impacts of the RFS program that could be used to inform science-based decision making on biofuel policy,” OIG report said. “The EPA is not meeting these requirements.

“Not having required reporting and studies impedes the EPA’s ability to identify, consider, mitigate and make policymakers aware of any adverse impacts of renewable fuels. Further, the EPA has no record of having communicated to Congress its decision to not meet its congressional reporting requirement. As a result, the EPA has not met the intent of the EISA requirements—to provide science-based information on RFS program impacts for decision-makers of U.S. biofuel policy.”

The OIG conducted the evaluation to determine whether EPA complied with statutory reporting requirements pertaining to the RFS and whether EPA updated the lifecycle analysis supporting the RFS with findings from the statutorily mandated National Academy of Sciences 2011 study on biofuels, the EPA’s 2011 Report to Congress on the Environmental Impacts of Biofuels and any subsequent reports or relevant research on biofuels.

According to the OIG report, EPA completed a comprehensive lifecycle analysis in 2010 to determine greenhouse gas reduction thresholds for RFS. Although not required to do so, the EPA committed to update this analysis as lifecycle science evolves, but does not have a process for initiating an update.

The RFS reporting requirement provides for an objective analysis on the environmental impacts and unintended consequences of U.S. biofuel policy. This analysis is important given conflicting scientific opinions about biofuel impacts, potential impacts outside of the EPA’s regulatory control and divergent RFS interests.

“The EPA does not have an assessment that meets the requirement to identify whether RFS creates any impacts on air quality and, thus, take required measures to mitigate impacts. This information is needed to fully inform the EPA, Congress and other stakeholders of the environmental impacts of U.S. biofuel policy,” the OIG report said.

In June 2016, Congress held a hearing on RFS implementation. Members expressed bipartisan interest in receiving more information from the EPA on the environmental impacts, to help assess whether the law’s original intent is being achieved and at what cost.

The OIG report had several recommendations, including:

That the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development provide triennial reports to Congress on the impacts of biofuels as required by the EISA.

That the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation complete the anti-backsliding study on the air quality impacts of the RFS as required by the EISA, determine whether additional action is needed to mitigate any adverse air quality impacts of the RFS as required by the EISA and develop or identify the process for evaluating the science relevant to lifecycle analysis and determining whether revisiting the original greenhouse gas threshold determinations is necessary.

EPA agreed with the OIG’s recommendations and provided planned completion dates; thus, all recommendations are considered resolved and open pending completion.

In the agency’s response to the OIG’s official draft, EPA agreed to provide triennial reports to Congress on the impacts of biofuels as required by EISA and offered a planned completion date; this recommendation is considered resolved and open pending completion.

The EPA agreed to complete the anti-backsliding study on the air quality impacts of RFS and determine whether additional action is needed to mitigate any adverse air quality impacts of RFS as required by EISA. In subsequent communication, the EPA provided planned completion dates of no later than the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024.

The EPA said it needed this time given, “multiple intermediate research steps that still need to be completed before OAR can plan, fund and conduct a comprehensive anti-backsliding study.

“These steps include development of baseline, current and projected scenarios for how renewable fuels have and might be produced, distributed and used to fulfill the RFS requirements, generation of emissions inventories and air quality modeling, all of which are time-consuming and resource-intensive. Furthermore, this work must be conducted on top of other statutorily-required actions under the RFS program, many of which are carried out by the same group of staff and managers.”

The EPA initially disagreed with identifying criteria needed to revisit the original greenhouse gas threshold determinations, stating that there is an existing process in place to inform consideration of the need for any re-evaluation of the GHG determinations.

“Based on the EPA’s comments, the OIG revised the recommendation to ask the EPA to develop or identify the process it uses to assess, evaluate and actively decide whether or not to update the lifecycle GHG analyses used to make the original GHG threshold determinations. The EPA agreed with this revised recommendation and provided a planned completion date,” the report said.

Key elements of what OIG means by “process” include process flow, triggers, timeframes, roles and responsibilities, and decision points. Recommendation 4 is considered resolved and open pending completion.

The EPA also provided technical edits, which the OIG considered and made revisions to the report as appropriate. EPA agreed with all recommendations and provided planned completion dates; thus, these recommendations are considered resolved and open pending completion.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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