Earlier this month, the EPA quietly released its new Renewable Fuel Standards for 2013. The good news is that these new mandates give a nod to reality in that they reduce the amount of biofuels that must be incorporated into the U.S. fuel supply. Yet this should be the first step to a larger rethinking of EPA requirements for the use of renewable fuels.
The simple fact is that we are still a long way from developing a satisfactory alternative to traditional fossil fuels and that these mandates can end up being counterproductive for the economy, the environment, and even alternative energy development. Blends with greater percentages of biofuels (such as ethanol) are still risky at best, and have been shown to damage engines and not provide the same amount of energy per gallon. While ethanol was once a darling of the environmentalist movement, there has been a reluctant acknowledgement that ethanol’s environmental impact is mixed at best, given the difficulty of growing the crops needed for ethanol production.
The increased demand for biofuels—that’s using farm land to create crops for fuel rather than consumption—has also contributed to the growing cost of food worldwide; that’s bad news for families here at home who are having trouble making ends meet, but even worse news for those living in true poverty around the world.
As IWF wrote in more detail here, these mandates may actually be counterproductive in terms of finding alternatives to fossil fuels. Mandates and the billions that government spends directly subsidizing the new favorite “green” energy companies make it harder for other entrepreneurs and developers to compete in the energy sector.
The EPA is making the right call in loosening renewable fuel standards that were clearly unachievable, but it needs to go further and not just provide more reasonable standards for 2013, but permanently.