By former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)
On November 30, President Obama will join leaders from 196 nations in Paris for the COP 21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Ironically, that same day, his Environmental Protection Agency could deliver a crippling blow to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the only federal law on the books that has actually seen success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue of climate change, it is abundantly clear that the president is focusing on dubious solutions to his stated goal of bringing about a time when “the rise of the oceans began to slow.” The administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth on the necessity of greenhouse gas reduction, showing stunning hypocrisy in turning its back on the RFS while promoting other, more costly and less effective approaches to reduce CO2 emissions.
When I was in the Senate, we passed the RFS with wide bipartisan support in 2005—and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush—providing a clear timetable and set of targets in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and harness a fuel sector of homegrown, renewable alternatives. The RFS did this by requiring an increasing percentage of biofuels be blended into the fuel supply year after year through 2022, allowing time for the renewable fuel industry to mature.
By any standard, the RFS has been a success. Billions have been invested into the budding industry, which currently supports 850,000 well-paying jobs around the country. It has lowered gas prices by $1.09 per gallon, saving the average American household $1,200 on their gas bill. And it has helped reduce our foreign oil imports to the lowest level in 20 years.
As for the environmental impact, this year was the RFS’s ten year anniversary. In that time, the RFS has reduced transportation-related carbon emissions by over 589 million metric tons, or the equivalent of removing more than 124 million cars off of the road.
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he spoke to a group of governors at a climate conference in Los Angeles and pledged, “When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington.” These allies seem to be companies in the business of solar, because, for the last two years, the EPA has been rolling back this successful policy to the detriment of investors who have contributed billions to the renewable fuels industry.
After nearly three years of delays, it took a federal court order to force EPA to finalize this year’s rule. In May, the EPA released its new proposal, substantially lowering the amount of biofuel that’s required to be blended into American gasoline and adding a new loophole in the law that would allow oil companies to control how much renewable fuel is blended from year to year. If this is the plan finalized on November 30, the EPA will be responsible for the carbon equivalent of adding 7.3 million cars to the road in 2015 alone. Not only would this be a giant step backward, it would fly in the face of the law’s intent.
The RFS is sound policy on many levels, from job creation to reduced dependence on foreign oil. It has also been uniquely successful in delivering these benefits while also achieving the stated goal of Obama: cleaner energy production. The policy solutions he is proposing in Paris will be costly and unlikely to deliver the result he seeks. Setting that aside, it would make sense for the president to, at a minimum, advance the policy goals of the RFS and add ethanol production to the agenda in Paris — at least then he’d be supporting a broadly successful policy, instead of more job killing regulations. The first step for Obama to achieve his goal of cleaner energy production can happen here at home, starting with him directing the EPA to stick to the Renewable Fuel Standard as it was written into law.