Growth Energy Comments to NHTSA on Vehicle Emissions Standards

Growth Energy is the world’s largest association of biofuel producers, representing 93 biorefineries that produce 9 billion gallons annually of low-carbon renewable fuel and 115 businesses associated with the biofuel production process. Growth Energy supports NHTSA and its efforts to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions in the transportation sector, but it has significant concerns about the Proposed Rule.

To begin with, the Proposed Rule entirely fails to consider ethanol and other biofuels, despite the significant benefits they provide in terms of both energy security and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. That failure effectively ignores that vehicles are complex systems that consist not only of the type of engine but also on the type of fuel used, and it limits the benefits that the CAFE standards can achieve.

Worse, the Proposed Rule actively disincentivizes biofuel use by putting an unjustified and unlawful thumb on the scale in favor of electric vehicles (EVs). While the Proposed Rule purports to comply with the Energy Policy and Conservation Act’s (EPCA) prohibition on considering the fuel economy of EVs, its consideration of state electric vehicle mandates and other EV incentives as part of its “baseline” does exactly what EPCA forbids. NHTSA’s purported distinction—that the incremental increase in standards above the baseline is achievable with internal combustion engine (ICE)-only improvements—is meaningless in practice because increases to the baseline increase the standard in the same way. So, the Proposed Rule amounts to an EV mandate in practice, which will be even more stringent to the extent NHTSA has overestimated its baseline to any degree. And there is a reason to believe that NHTSA has significantly overestimated the baseline because it included state EV mandates that are likely to be invalidated as preempted by federal law.

In addition to violating the plain text of EPCA, the Proposed Rule’s functional EV mandate is also inconsistent with another federal statute—the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS, which was passed in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, calls for increasing production of ethanol and other biofuels. Together, the RFS and the exclusion of consideration of EVs in EPCA demonstrate that Congress intended to maintain a robust role of biofuels in the nation’s fuel supply. Certainly, Congress would not have passed the RFS without amending EPCA if it understood EPCA as an eventual phase-out of biofuels in favor of EVs.

To address those deficiencies, NHTSA should make the following changes in the final rule:

• Remove consideration of EVs from the assessment of a “baseline” for the 2027-2032
CAFE standards;

• Consider the GHG-reduction and energy security benefits of biofuels throughout the rule;
• Maintain the 0.15 VCF for flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) and add a conversion factor for mid-level ethanol blends.

Read the full comments here.