April 2014
New York University Environmental Law Journal;2014, Vol. 20 Issue 3, p374
Academic Journal
Increased reliance on renewable energy technologies remains the best approach to mitigate the environmental and social problems associated with the unsustainable use of finite fossil fuels for our energy needs. The Renewable Fuel Standard ("RFS" or "Standard") exists as a pioneering pillar in the realm of federal incentives for renewable energy technologies, particularly biofuels. By mandating the commercialization of biofuels, it: (1) benefits the environment by reducing climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector; (2) increases U.S. energy security by reducing petroleum imports from unstable foreign regions; and (3) serves as a driver for much needed economic development. Moreover, it does this through an exceptionally elegant regulatory regime, which imposes its costs on regulated entities and, as such, has very little impact on the federal budget. But a political storm is raging over the continued implementation and existence of the RFS. Petroleum-related interests, who vehemently oppose the RFS for obvious reasons, continue to outspend the lobbying efforts of stakeholders who support it, and the food industry, which continues to cling to the increasingly empirically refuted notion that biofuels put enormous upward pressure on food prices, are using the 2012 draught as a rallying cry for waiving the RFS's requirements. Congress is heeding the call and is considering an increasing number of bills seeking to either modify or repeal the Standard. In this Article, we provide a thorough analysis of all issues facing the continued implementation and existence of the RFS. We first set out background information on biofuels in general and then provide a detailed overview of the enactment, creation, and implementation of the RFS's regulatory regime. Second, we present a political economy analysis of altering the RFS, where we detail the preferences, critiques, and relative political bargaining power of affected stakeholders. Next, we detail and comment on legislative attempts to modify or repeal the RFS that Congress has considered in recent years. Finally, we provide our policy recommendations, which include administrative and legislative reform proposals for moving forward with the Standard. Specifically, we urge that the RFS's mandates be adjusted to reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities, its biofuel categories be expanded to encompass all emerging biofuel technologies, and its biomass sourcing constraints be relaxed.


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