The White House has completed its review of controversial U.S. EPA regulations aimed at curbing renewable fuels' greenhouse gas emissions.
The Office of Management and Budget signed off on the rule yesterday, OMB records show, clearing EPA to finalize the long-delayed implementation of the renewable fuels standard that Congress included in the 2007 energy bill.
The bill expanded the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and set escalating goals for the use of ethanol and other biofuels in U.S. transportation fuels, reaching 36 billion gallons a year in 2022.
The standard requires EPA to assess the "lifecycle" emissions of biofuels -- weighing the emissions from growing crops, producing fuels made from them, and distributing and using the fuels.
The draft regulations EPA proposed last year sparked outrage from biofuels advocates and farm-state lawmakers who maintained the agency was unfair to ethanol.
Environmental groups and the biofuels industry have been in a tug of war -- with EPA in the middle -- on the inclusion of indirect international emissions caused when farmers produce fuel instead of food.
The EPA proposal measures emissions from "indirect" land-use changes associated with biofuels -- such as land that is deforested in other countries because of increased crop growth in the United States. The agency concluded, depending on the time frames modeled, that traditional corn ethanol could have a slightly larger emissions footprint than gasoline when land-use changes are factored in.
House and Senate Agriculture committee members and renewable-fuels industry representatives blasted the proposal, saying it would be too difficult to make those links between corn grown in the United States and international deforestation. Further, they said EPA's analysis did not consider indirect emissions from gasoline, such as emissions related to shipping the fuel or procuring it overseas, making the comparison unfair.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) added language to the House climate and energy bill in June that would bar EPA from considering including emissions from indirect land-use changes abroad for five years.
And Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) threatened to add an amendment to an appropriations bill last year that would have stopped EPA's work on the measure. But he backed down after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told him the agency was taking his concerns into account and would conduct an "uncertainty analysis" on the land-use issue.
The biofuels industry and environmental groups have lobbied OMB fiercely. Public records show OMB meetings over the past year with representatives from the National Biodiesel Board, Environmental Defense, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Friends of the Earth, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Soybean Association, the Petroleum Institute, Bio and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.