Testimony: Renewable Fuel Standard: Program Unlikely to Meet Production or Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets

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It is unlikely that the goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil—will be met as envisioned because there is limited production of advanced biofuels and limited potential for expanded production by 2022. Advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and biomass-based diesel, achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions than conventional biofuels (primarily corn-starch ethanol), but the latter account for most of the biofuel blended into domestic transportation fuels under the RFS. As a result, the RFS is unlikely to achieve the targeted level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. For example, the cellulosic biofuel blended into the transportation fuel supply in 2015 was less than 5 percent of the statutory target of 3 billion gallons. Partly as a result of low production of advanced biofuels, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which administers the RFS in consultation with other agencies, has reduced the RFS targets for such fuels through waivers in each of the last 4 years (see figure). According to experts GAO interviewed, the shortfall of advanced biofuels is due to high production costs. The investments required to make these fuels more cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, even in the longer run, are unlikely in the current investment climate, according to experts.

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