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Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program to promote the production, distribution, and use of biofuels in the United States, for the stated purposes of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increasing energy security, and promoting economic development. The RFS was seen as a means to address substantial challenges stymieing the production and use of biofuels, including the fact that biofuels were not (and are still not) cost competitive with conventional fossil fuels, at least in the absence of government subsidies, and the significant technical barriers facing biofuel production, particularly with respect to cellulosic ethanol, the most preferred category of biofuel under the RFS. The statute established a mandatory demand regime intended to promote investment in research and development, induce new market entrants, expand the necessary infrastructure, and allow for economies of scale. This article begins with a brief tutorial on biofuels and their relative advantages and disadvantages relative to other energy sources. It then explains the RFS in a nutshell and compares and contrasts it with other environmental statutes. The article then reviews some specific problems that EPA has experienced in implementing the RFS, and a variety of unintended negative environmental consequences associated with widespread adoption of certain biofuels, particularly those produced using feedstocks derived from conventional agriculture, like cornstarch or cellulose. Finally, the article proposes a number of ideas for reforming the RFS, along with a discussion of some non-RFS approaches to addressing the RFS’s primary policy objective of reducing GHG emissions.

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University of Missouri Kansas City Law Review





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