EPA slammed over renewable fuel standard requirements

The EPA’s Office of Research and Development has not complied with the requirement to provide a report every three years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels, a new report by the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found.

In the report, OIG said EPA has not prepared reports on the environmental impact of the renewable fuel standard (RFS), as required by the Energy Information and Security Act of 2007.

EPA is behind on compliance with three required reports: a triennial report to Congress on the environmental and conservation impacts of the RFS, a separate anti-backsliding report on the impacts of the RFS on air quality, and a determination as to whether mitigation measures are necessary.

The report states that EPA management admitted that they “have not prioritised compliance” with the required reports.

EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) sent the last of the triennial reports to Congress in December of 2011, and the report says there have been no subsequent reports since. To top that off, “ORD currently has no plans to issue subsequent reports to Congress as required.”

ORD says that first report cost $1.7 million and the equivalent of four full-time employees for fiscal 2010 and 2011 to produce. The agency says it received little feedback from Congress about the report and that the three-year window leaves little room for new information.

OIG counters that the agency could have issued a report saying as much, saying that the “lack of scientific advances does not eliminate the EPA's reporting requirement.” Similar points were brought up about the anti-backsliding story, which would have determined if efforts to increase renewable fuels use could “adversely impact air quality as a result of changes in vehicle and engine emissions of air pollutants.”

EPA was also slammed in the report for failing to identify a process to update lifecycle GHGs of renewable fuels to compare them to the fossil fuels they are designed to replace. Since a 2010 comprehensive report on the matter, the agency has made no changes to their methodology. While not a statutory requirement, OIG said EPA “committed to updating its lifecycle analysis as the science evolves.”

OIG closed out its report by formally suggesting that the agency follow through with the required triennial reports as well as complete the additional studies as required by the law.

“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,” the OIG said.

In response, the EPA agreed to finalise a new triennial report by the end of 2017 and request fiscal 2018 funding to address the anti-backsliding and mitigation studies. The agency, however, disagreed with the need to revisit the greenhouse gas threshold determinations, saying EPA's Office of Air and Radiation “does not believe that formal criteria are needed to determine whether the lifecycle GHG threshold determinations should be revisited.”

As evidenced by a June congressional hearing on RFS implementation, the need for this information is a rare point of agreement from nearly all sides of the biofuels debate, albeit for different reasons.