The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has announced a probe into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) adherence to reporting requirements regarding biofuel’s impact on air quality. Under the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), the EPA is to submit to Congress a science-based triennial report on the effect of the controversial program.
As a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), changes were made to the Renewable Fuel Standard program (RFS), the program that mandates the blending of ethanol with petroleum-based fuels for domestic use. The law directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to analyze lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the increased use of renewable fuels in comparison with petroleum-based fuels.
The Clean Air Act (CAA), defines the term “lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions” as the GHG impact from all emissions including land use changes and other activities. The law requires EPA’s report to include,
“…all stages of production of fuel and feedstock and distribution, from feedstock generation or extraction through the distribution and delivery and use of the finished fuel to the ultimate consumer, where the mass values for all greenhouse gases are adjusted to account for their relative global warming potential.”
According to the OIG’s announcement, the goal of the review is to determine the following;
- Whether the EPA has complied with the law on reporting requirements of the Clean Air Act.
- If the EPA followed a mandate to amend its previous biofuel’s environmental impact reports to reflect the findings of a 2011 study by the National Academy of Sciences.
- If the EPA used the National Academy of Sciences data in subsequent reports.
In preparation for the review the OIG has asked EPA to provide:
- Triennial Reports to Congress issued after the EPA’s first report in 2011, and any other reports to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts of the RFS program.
- RFS Antibacksliding Analysis required under Section 211(v) of the Clean Air Act.
- Documentation of the EPA’s response to the 2011 National Academy of Sciences study and its recommendations.
- Documented changes or planned future modifications to the RFS regulatory impact analysis or lifecycle analysis based on findings/recommendations from the 2011 National Academy of Sciences study, Triennial Reports to Congress and/or Antibacksliding Analysis (or documentation explaining why no changes were necessary).
The OIG’s investigation comes at a time when the call to cut corn-based ethanol is growing louder. Interestingly, the announcement came one day after the University of Tennessee released results of a comprehensive 10-year review which calls for a restructuring of the RFS program. The Tennessee study concludes, “We have had 10 years under the RFS and a commercially viable, next-generation biofuels technology has not emerged.”