The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Yves Le Bouthillier, Annette Cowie, Paul Martin and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray
Chapter 6: Lessons from US biofuels policy: the Renewable Fuel Standard’s rocky ride
In 2005, the United States enacted its first national biofuels law, the Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”), RFS1, which required US oil refiners, blenders and importers – collectively called “obligated parties” – to add specified quantities of qualifying biofuels into gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels. Two years later, legislation created RFS2, which increased the overall blending requirements for all biofuels, created specific blending mandates for advanced biofuels, and set greenhouse gas reduction mandates for new biofuels. These elements were intended to pave the way for the United States to expand development of climate-friendly transportation fuels and to spur investment in a robust alternative fuels market. However, ten years into the program, the RFS remains a contentious law that attracts criticism from a wide range of interests. From the outset, the RFS faced criticism from environmentalists for promoting the use of corn ethanol, a resource-intensive alternative fuel that may have a higher greenhouse gas intensity under certain scenarios than some fossil fuels. Despite years of research, the greenhouse gas intensity of corn ethanol remains a heavily disputed issue. Obligated parties have argued that the RFS has required them to use biofuels that consumers do not want and retail gas stations may not sell. Even those in the renewable fuels industry have criticized the RFS – or, more pointedly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the RFS – for failing to effectively promote advanced biofuel development and for suppressing a viable biofuel market.
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