How will the oil industry's moves to have U.S. EPA reconsider its 2013 renewable fuel targets affect the biofuels industry and the future of renewable fuel policy? During today's OnPoint, Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, discusses the latest twists in the debate over the renewable fuel standard and previews potential action by Congress.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. Joining me today is Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. Tom, nice to have you here as always.
Tom Buis: It's great to be on.
Monica Trauzzi: Tom, the oil industry is moving aggressively to have EPA reconsider its 2013 renewable fuel targets. What are your expectations for how quickly the D.C. Circuit Court will move on this petition?
Tom Buis: It's hard to predict how fast the courts will move on any legal action, but you know, we're not surprised. They've asked EPA and sued, both they've petitioned EPA and they've sued EPA each of the last few years, since the RFS has been there to roll back the volumes, in 2011-2012 on cellulose, now 2013. Last year, the biodiesel, there was a petition that was actually ruled on when EPA rolled out the '13 volumes, to roll back that number, so it's not surprising. It's a fight about market share. They don't want to see an alternative to fossil-based fuel.
Monica Trauzzi: You're not surprised, but are you concerned about the impacts that it could have, not only on these targets, but the targets moving forward as we look toward 2014?
Tom Buis: Oh, yeah, you're always concerned about any actions, but you know, just as we've done in the past, we'll be in there setting the record straight with the real facts.
Monica Trauzzi: RINs continue to be a major part of the discussion. Should they be considered as part of the supply by the court?
Tom Buis: Well, the RINs issue, Monica, and you've probably heard us say this before, that's a self-made issue. You know, if the obligated parties, oil industry, would allow higher blends into the market, the RINs issue goes away. It's self-inflicted. It's an opaque market. There's no regulatory regime that's really taken a look at the RINs trading. There's a lot of concern that there's manipulation out there. In fact, there was a letter yesterday by a bipartisan group of representatives in the House of Representatives asking for an investigation by CFTC on the RINs market and whether or not there's manipulation. The high point of the RINs price, ironically, was the same week that the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing. And they've plummeted since then. They've gone from $1.50 back down to 30 cents. You know, all that try, that feeble attempt to connect RIN prices to gas prices, the facts just don't support it. In fact, you can look at 2012 when RIN prices were 2 cents and 3 cents a gallon. You can look at them today. There's no correlation between RIN prices and gas prices. It's just another excuse out there or a made-up reason to try to eliminate the renewable fuel standard and prevent competition at the pump.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about some news coming out of your industry. Recently DuPont Biofuels announced that it would be leaving the Advanced Biofuels Association. DuPont is a member of Growth Energy. Is DuPont's move a sign of discord within the industry on next steps concerning policy and technology?
Tom Buis: I'm not going to speak for DuPont. They've got plenty of spokespersons for themselves, but you know, I think they've been a valuable partner in both the current generation of biofuels and the next generation of biofuels, and a company that size is going to do what's in their best interest. You know, we need, and that's why this debate is occurring today and why it's so critical, is really the attempt by oil is to stop the next generation of biofuels ever getting started. And we're right on the cusp of that. DuPont, Poet, Abengoa, KiOR, INEOS are all in the commercial production of cellulose. Well, if we meet the RFS, that's 21 billion more gallons of biofuels that would basically take the place of fossil fuel, so that's what the fight's all about.
Monica Trauzzi: This is happening, though, right in the middle of the debate. I mean, are you concerned that you'll start to see other major companies leaving trade organizations?
Tom Buis: Well, you know, trade association membership's voluntary. I don't think they left every trade association. They're still part of Fuels America, which is a coalition of both first-generation and next-generation biofuels producers, and they have to do what's in their best interest and, again, I can't speak for DuPont.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there an issue within your industry on messaging?
Tom Buis: No, I think everyone's united. I really do. If you look at the people involved, whether it's in cellulose or domestic advanced or biodiesel or first generation or whatever generation into the future of biofuels production, I think everyone's united. They want to keep the RFS and we want to get over the blend wall, and you can't allow, whether it's a regulatory decision or a legislative decision, us to backpedal now. We're, in essence, five years into a 15-year plan that's working, and it can work into the future, and it's going to work into the future.
Monica Trauzzi: So moving forward, we're looking towards EPA's rollout of the 2014 numbers. What are your expectations on the timeline there? It's supposed to happen pretty soon.
Tom Buis: Yeah, it's always supposed to happen. We'll just wait and see. You know, I hope it come out soon. I think certainty for the industry, both the obligated parties and the people that produce it is really important. You know, unfortunately, last year's volumes came out quite light.
Monica Trauzzi: And your outlook for congressional action on the RFS? I mean, do you think that Congress will pick up where it left off? Is there an appetite for it?
Tom Buis: I don't know if there's an appetite. I don't know if Congress could pass anything, let alone controversial energy legislation, and it will be controversial because the two sides are very far apart. Oil wants to eliminate the RFS, and obviously the biofuels industry does not. I don't know how you ever bridge the gap, number one. Number two, they can't pass a farm bill, they can't pass a budget, they can't pass all these other items. What makes you think they're going to be able to enact energy legislation?
Monica Trauzzi: All right. A fun town to watch, right?
Tom Buis: It is. It is, indeed.
Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show. Nice to see you.
Tom Buis: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
[End of Audio]